We won’t be cowed by Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats: Liz Truss issues defiant riposte after desperate Russian leader warns West of Armageddon if he’s thwarted over Ukraine invasion
She and Joe Biden both denounced the Russian despot in New York after he delivered a chilling speech in Moscow.
Putin said he had ordered the mobilisation of reserves to fight in Ukraine and claimed he was ‘not bluffing’ over the use of his nuclear arsenal.
The crisis dominated talks between the Prime Minister and President Biden last night during which they insisted the West would not yield to aggression.
Addressing the UN general assembly in the early hours, Miss Truss said Putin was ‘desperately trying to justify his catastrophic failures’.
The Prime Minister told fellow world leaders that the UK will spend 3 per cent of GDP on defence by 2030, repeating a promise she made when she campaigned to become Tory leader.
She added: ‘He (Poetin) is doubling down by sending even more reservists to a terrible fate. He is desperately trying to claim the mantle of democracy for a regime without human rights or freedoms.
‘And he is making yet more bogus claims and sabre-rattling threats. This will not work. The international alliance is strong – Ukraine is strong.’
Miss Truss, who has held talks in New York with Volodymyr Zelensky’s wife Olena, said Ukrainians were ‘not just defending their own country – they are defending our values and the security of the whole world. That’s why we must act’.
President Biden condemned Putin’s threat to deploy his nuclear arsenal following a series of military setbacks.
‘A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,’ he told the UN general assembly. ‘We will stand in solidarity against Russia’s aggression, period.’
He said Russia had ‘shamelessly violated the core tenets’ of the UN with a ‘brutal, needless war’ and its alleged war crimes ‘should make your blood run cold’.
The unprecedented warnings came as:
- Russia released five captured Britons in a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia, including two former soldiers sentenced to death;
- Protests sprang up in Russian cities at the decision to mobilise 300,000 reservists;
- Queues formed at the border with Finland and air tickets sold out as potential conscripts tried to flee;
- Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg warned that any use of nuclear weapons would have ‘unprecedented consequences for Russia’;
- Foreign Secretary James Cleverly prepared to confront his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov with evidence that Moscow plans sham referendums in Ukraine’s breakaway republics;
- Miss Truss pledged to give Ukraine at least £2.3billion in military aid next year – the same as promised this year.
Crisis talks: Liz Truss with Joe Biden in New York last night. They discussed Vladimir Putin’s escalation of the Ukraine war
Smiles: Shaun Pinner (centre left) and Aiden Aslin (centre right), arriving in Saudi Arabia with other hostages last night
Other British prisoners of war held captive by the Russian authorities have finally been released and are on their way back to the UK
Free at last: British hostages Shaun Pinner (links) and Aiden Aslin (reg), along with a third released prisoner of war giving a peace sign
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which was supposed to be over in three days, has been hit with a string of disasters.
These culminated with Ukrainian forces recapturing more than 1,000 square miles of territory this month.
In his rambling speech yesterday, Putin accused Western powers of ‘trying to tear apart and destroy Russia’ and claimed they were ‘using the Ukrainian people as cannon fodder’.
‘If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will absolutely use all available means to protect Russia and our people. We are not bluffing,’ he said during a 20-minute tirade.
‘Those who try to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the prevailing winds can turn in their direction.’
The 69-year-old leader did not say whether Moscow would use shorter-range, tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield, or the long-distance strategic warheads that can destroy entire cities.
His pre-recorded comments are his most overt threat since the illegal invasion of Ukraine began nearly seven months ago.
A diplomatic source said there were growing fears that Putin could follow through on his threat to use nuclear weapons.
‘We take this threat very seriously in terms of pure defence, but also as another example of Putin flouting international agreements,’ the source said.
‘The threat either of using tactical nuclear weapons, which would be tragic, or using bigger nuclear weapons is very real.’
The source said the bellicose language from the Kremlin suggested Putin was becoming increasingly desperate, byvoeging: ‘We are not going to engage in a battle of words about a nuclear threat from a man who postponed his speech last night, was shaking when he delivered it, and is now attempting to mobilise reservists who are attempting to get to airports across Russia. His lies are catching up with him.’
Vladislav Davidzon, a Russia expert at the Atlantic Council think-tank, described Putin’s speech as an ‘act of rage’.
Four police officers wearing black visors, vests and carrying batons detain a person in Moscow this evening
‘Threatening to use atomic weapons looks like an extremely reckless gamble, but it is far from certain whether Putin would go ahead with it,’ he added. ‘If you have to tell your enemies you are not bluffing, it probably means that you are.’
Putin yesterday signed a decree for an immediate ‘partial mobilisation’, giving his defence minister Sergei Shoigu the power to draft in 300,000 conscripts.
It is the first mobilisation in Russia since the Second World War and draws from the country’s vast military reserves of around 25million people.
The move follows a draft bill approved by Russian MPs to increase punishments for wartime offences such as desertion.
The presidential order also forces army contracts to be extended automatically until the end of the mobilisation period, effectively indefinitely.
Putin’s speech signalled that he plans to immediately recognise the results of sham votes set to take place in the occupied Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine from Friday.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky told Germany’s Bild tabloid yesterday that Putin wanted ‘to drown Ukraine in blood, but also in the blood of his own soldiers’.
‘I don’t believe that he will use these weapons, I don’t believe that the world will allow him to use these weapons,’ he said, warning the West against giving in to those threats.
‘Tomorrow, Putin can say as well as Ukraine, we want part of Poland, otherwise we will use atomic weapons. We cannot make these compromises.’
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace branded the Kremlin’s move as an admission that Putin’s invasion was failing.
He added: ‘He and his defence minister have sent tens of thousands of their own citizens to their deaths, ill equipped and badly led. No amount of threats and propaganda can hide the fact that Ukraine is winning this war.’
The Prime Minister reminded her fellow leaders that the Queen had used her own address to the UN in 1956 to warn the world that it was ‘vital not only to have strong ideals but also to have the political will to deliver on them’.
She added: ‘Now we must show that will. We must fight to defend those ideals.’
Joe Biden tells Liz Truss he was ‘amazed and overwhelmed’ by Britons’ affection for the Queen after he attended state funeral – as US President tells PM he’s ready to ‘hear what’s on your mind’ in Brexit row over Northern Ireland
Speaking at the beginning of his talks with Prime Minister Liz Truss, Mr Biden described how he was ‘honoured’ to attend Monday’s service at Westminster Abbey.
He also paid tribute to the ‘thousands’ of Britons who camped out overnight to pay their final respects to the Queen.
The US President and PM both flew to New York following Her Majesty’s funeral to attend the UN General Assembly, where they tonight held their first formal talks since Ms Truss replaced Boris Johnson.
Mr Biden hailed the close relationship between Britain and America.
But – as widely expected – the US President also warned he was ready to make an intervention into the UK’s ongoing dispute with the EU over post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland.
He told Ms Truss he was ‘looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind’ as the PM prepares for a fresh battle with Brussels over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
In her own opening remarks, Ms Truss thanked Mr Biden and his wife, Jill, for attending the Queen’s funeral and the ‘support’ offered by the US during ‘two very difficult weeks’.
She hailed the ‘steadfast’ trans-Atlantic alliance but also offered a hint she would be robust in her discussions with the US President over the Protocol.
‘Of course I’m looking forward to discussing the Belfast Good Friday Agreement and how we make sure that’s upheld into the future,’ she told Mr Biden.
US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Liz Truss tonight held their first formal talks since she replaced Boris Johnson
Speaking at the beginning of his talks with Ms Truss, Mr Biden described how he was ‘honoured’ to attend Monday’s service at Westminster Abbey
As widely expected, the US President warned he was ready to make an intervention into the UK’s ongoing dispute with the EU over post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland
The Bidens were among a huge number of world leaders to fly into London for the Queen’s funeral this week.
The President and First Lady also took time to pay their respects to Her Majesty by attending the lying-in-state at Westminster Hall on Sunday.
Mr Biden told Ms Truss tonight: ‘It was an honour for my wife and I to be able to pay our respects at her lying-in-state and attend the state funeral in London.
‘I was amazed and overwhelmed by the affection of the British people and the world, quite frankly.
‘Even the thousands of thousands of people who stayed all night just to pay their respects was enormous.’
Mr Biden told Ms Truss the UK was ‘our closest ally in the world’ as he congratulated her on her appointment as PM.
‘There is no issue that I can think of, of global consequence, where the US and UK are not working in cooperation and I expect we’ll be able to continue to do that,’ he added.
The US President revealed he and Ms Truss would discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the challenge posed by China, the Iran nuclear deal, and global energy security.
On the UK’s Brexit row with the EU, he added: ‘We both are committed to protecting the gains of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and I’m looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind and how we can continue to cooperate.’
Responding to Mr Biden, Ms Truss described the Queen as ‘the rock on which modern Britain was built’ as she noted the ‘huge outpouring of affection for her’ both in the UK and US.
‘We’re very grateful for all the support you’ve given us over what has been two very difficult weeks in the United Kingdom as we move toward the reign of King Charles III and we enter a new era,’ she added.
‘And as you say Mr President, we are steadfast allies.’
Ms Truss, who was Foreign Secretary before becoming PM, told Mr Biden she had previously enjoyed working ‘very closely’ with US Secretary of State Tony Blinken on the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.