Embassy says UK foreign secretary will have talks with Russian counterpart at UK’s request
The UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, is to travel to Russia in the next two weeks for talks with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, the Russian embassy in London has announced.
The Foreign Office did not confirm the visit but it is likely to go ahead and will be the first of its kind for five years. Russia claims the visit was requested by the UK.
Truss was already due to visit Kyiv next week where she will meet the Ukrainian prime minister, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Britain has been among the Nato countries advocating tough measures to deter a Russian invasion of Ukraine, and has provided 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Kyiv.
Last June the Royal Navy’s HMS Defender sailed close to Crimea to underline the UK government’s view that the peninsula remains Ukrainian territory. The UK has also provided £1.8bn in loans to help Ukraine strengthen its navy, actions that British diplomats say have led to the closest relations ever between the two countries. Ukraine is eager to expand that alliance into a trilateral alliance by including Poland, bringing together the three powers most hostile to Russia in Europe.
Over the weekend Truss, the formal political head of the intelligence services, accused Russia of being behind a plot to topple the Ukrainian president and replace him with a Russian puppet leader. She has repeatedly claimed Russia will be making a massive strategic mistake if it invades Ukraine and will face severe consequences. Russia, believing the UK is in decline post-Brexit, accused her of reading too many spy novels.
The last British foreign secretary to travel to Moscow was Boris Johnson in December 2017. Theresa May met Vladimir Putin on the margins of the G20 in 2019 – the first time the two sides had met at that level since the poisoning of a UK double agent by Russia led to a full-scale diplomatic collapse.
One purpose of the Truss meeting will be to try to spell out to Russia that any economic sanctions imposed in the event of an invasion of Ukraine will affect not just the Russian economy but the personal wealth of some of Putin’s closest personal allies. Much of that money is invested in the London property market.
There has been pressure from the Biden administration to force the UK to take a tougher stance about Russian oligarchs.
A report on the UK’s Russia strategy published by Chatham House on Friday echoed the US state department’s concerns that the UK has not done enough to show it will rein in some of the Russian oligarchs that invest in UK property.
The Chatham House report says: “The City of London’s role as a global financial services hub gives the UK more leverage than many of Russia’s other commercial partners – if the government is prepared to tolerate the hit to specific (and politically well connected) sectors of the UK economy that would result from more stringent sanctions.”
UK officials continue to insist they have strong anti-corruption legislation, but there is a head of steam developing in the US at what is regard as the Conservative party’s reluctance to challenge some of its prominent donors.
The Foreign Office said Truss would continue to travel by chartered planes. She landed herself in hot water recently when it was revealed the taxpayer had been left with a £500,000 bill after she charted a private jet to fly to Australia for a three-day visit. The Foreign Office said it was a plane hired by the UK government, and if she travelled commercially she would in effect be out of action for 24 hours in each direction since she had to access top-secret information every day, which would not be possible on a normal commercial flight.