Boris Johnson’s efforts to present himself as an important diplomatic player in the Ukraine crisis took a hit after the Kremlin refused to reschedule a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin which the prime minister was forced to cancel on Monday.
The call has been canceled so Johnson can make a statement to MPs on Downing Street parties during the lockdown.
No 10 had said it intended to make the call, which was previously scheduled for Monday afternoon, to move forward on Tuesday but the Kremlin rejected the request.
It is not clear whether the call was delayed by real scheduling problems or a calculated insult by Moscow to highlight Britain’s irrelevance and Johnson’s weakness.
The Kremlin said a phone call could take place at a later time.
Instead of speaking with the Russian president on Monday, Johnson had to spend two hours answering MPs’ questions about his role in a series of Downing Street meetings held during the lockdown.
The news came as the prime minister flew to Kiev on Tuesday to present Ukraine The government’s £88m fight against corruption, as part of a British show of solidarity with the state in its threatening standoff with Russia.
Johnson hopes the short visit will take attention away from his visit Domestic political trouble About punishing Downing Street parties during lockdown.
The Secretary of State, Liz Truss, was scheduled to accompany Johnson to Ukraine, but was then forced to cancel. Tested positive for Covid. Truss looked sick when she made a statement in the House of Commons promising Russian oligarchs He will have nowhere to escape UK sanctions If they invade Ukraine.
Britain is seen as one of the strongest supporters of Ukrainian sovereignty, providing military assistance, and its position has been compared favorably by some Ukrainian politicians with that of Germany, with debate still raging over whether the government in Berlin could help militarily at all. .
Since 2015, the British armed forces have trained more than 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers to defend themselves, as well as providing soft loans to the country to bolster its navy. The Ukrainian army is already training with new anti-tank missiles supplied by the United Kingdom.
Johnson is one of several European politicians who flocked to Kiev this week, including Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and several foreign ministers.
£88m in new anti-corruption funding has been secured from the UK Good Governance Fund. The US Treasury is waging a relentless campaign of sanctions and confiscations against the Ukrainian oligarchy, including Igor Kolomoisky, who has been accused of embezzlement of state funds.
The funds are also intended to help Ukraine diversify away from its dependence on Russian gas, which is seen as one of the structural weaknesses in the geopolitical struggle with Moscow.
Johnson will need to strike a delicate balance between highlighting the buildup of Russian forces on the border and welcoming the ongoing diplomacy underway between the United States and Russia. President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Europe not to hysteria about the Russian threat, fearing that panic could worsen Ukraine’s fragile economy.
Before his visit, Johnson said: “It is the right of every Ukrainian to determine how they are governed. As a friend and democratic partner, the UK will continue to support Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of those who seek to destroy it.
We urge Russia to step back and enter into dialogue to find a diplomatic solution and avoid further bloodshed.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is in discussions with NATO about additional British military support that could be provided to support the bloc’s eastern flank. On Monday, he visited Hungary, one of the European Union countries closest to Putin. its prime minister, Victor UrbanShe was due to meet the Russian president on Tuesday, and Hungary has so far ruled out deploying more NATO troops inside its country and has been tepid about further sanctions against Russia.
Johnson is scheduled to meet with Zelensky at the president’s official residence, the impressive turquoise neoclassical Mariinsky Palace in Kiev, overlooking the Dnipro River and next to the Verkhovna Rada.
They are scheduled to hold a joint press conference at 7 p.m. local time (5 p.m. GMT).
The meeting takes place amid disagreements between the US, UK and Zelensky’s government over the nature of the Russian military threat. according to Latest Ukrainian estimatesThe Kremlin has amassed 135,000 troops on the border, 8-10000 more than last week.
The Kremlin said it would hold military exercises in Belarus, starting on February 10, involving tactical and heavy weapons battalions within walking distance of Kiev. The Biden administration said a Russian invasion was “clearly likely” imminent.
But Zelensky rejected this scenario. He notes that his country has been at war with Moscow since 2014, with low-intensity fighting breaking out every day in the Donbass region between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists.
Speaking on Friday, Zelensky said the panic over the invasion was “unbalanced and unreasonable.” It hurt the Ukrainian economy, he said, with investor confidence and the national currency hit hard. Referring to the UK’s withdrawal of diplomats from Kiev, He told the Guardian newspaper: “Captains must not leave the ship. I don’t think we have the Titanic here.”
Ukrainian officials agree that Putin can order an invasion at any time. But they see the mobilization of the Kremlin’s threatening forces as part of a long-term plan for destabilization, which could see Moscow pull back from the brink, then escalate again in the fall.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, has Welcome the delivery of Downing Street anti-tank weapons and a $1.7 billion (£1.26 billion) agreement with London For the renewal of the Ukrainian Navy. The weapons arrived in Kiev last week by military transport.
The shoulder-release system, known as NLAW, has Until it became a popular meme.
One of the bloggers in Kiev, Alex Juda, posted a photo on Instagram of guns with the union flag and the Beatles and the words: “All you need is NLAW”. others Thank you, the British people..
“We don’t care about Downing Street parties. We care that our soldiers get an effective weapon against Russia,” said Oleksiy Ryabchin, a former parliamentarian and adviser to the Ukrainian gas company Naftogaz.
He added: “Boris Johnson is popular here. He’s trying to stand up to Putin. That’s what makes him a great leader. We need more weapons from him.”
However, other observers said Johnson’s decision to visit Kiev had nothing to do with defending democracy from Russian authoritarianism. Instead, it was an attempt to escape Sue Gray’s investigation into the social shutdown in Downing Street, a dead investigation and negative headlines at home.
“I think the government is right to support Ukraine,” said David Clarke, who was a special adviser to former Labor Secretary of State Robin Cook. “But I suspect a lot of the politics on this matter is about distracting from Johnson’s credibility issues at home rather than doing the right thing on European security.”
Clarke added: “Johnson was not prepared to deal with the issues in the Russian report or with the Russian money that went to the Conservative Party. The Kremlin’s influence operations in the UK are well documented, including the Prime Minister’s personal communications.”