Re-establishing relations with Russia would be “catastrophic” and make the cost of living crisis “100 times worse”, Britain’s Armed Forces minister has said.
James Heappey said any moves to repair ties with Moscow would only “embolden” Vladimir Putin and allow him to expand beyond Ukraine, as he urged the West to continue backing Volodymyr Zelensky’s country.
Speaking as Ukrainians mark 31 years of freedom from the Soviet Union, the defence minister acknowledged some Britons “worrying about the cost of living” would want things to go back to normal.
“Arguably the most straightforward solution to the cost of living crisis is that we re-establish relations with Russia and everything goes back to the way that it was in the European energy market,” he told Sky News.
Heappey said: “Every single thing that I have seen in the last six months tells me that that would be catastrophic for security in the Euro-Atlantic.”
The minister added: “Within just a few years, we would find ourselves in a situation where an emboldened Russia was causing cost of living challenges that are 100 times worse than what we’re seeing right now.”
Heappey said appeasing Russia now would allow Putin’s regime “to expand their ambitions beyond Ukraine and into Nato territory in the Baltic, for example”.
He added: “We have to stand up for Ukraine with Ukraine, so that this all ends on Zelensky’s terms. Because if we do not, whatever the short-term pain and cost might be, we set the conditions for security in the Euro-Atlantic.”
The minister backed a call from Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, who said all nations in the defence alliance should spend more on defence in a “dangerous world”. Heappey said spending hikes were needed because of an “epoch change in our security situation”.
The defence minister, backing Liz Truss for the Tory leadership, pointed to her commitment to increase UK defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP – calling it “an enormous commitment for any government to make”.
However, the pledge comes as more urgent questions are raised about extra support to ease the pain of looming energy price rises – with gas and electricity bills set to hit around £3,600 in October.
Scottish Power has suggested that a state-backed fund wanted by many of the big energy firms so they can freeze prices for two years – with costs then repaid over the next 15 to 20 years – could cost £100bn.
But Heappey dismissed the idea, as he backed Truss’ immediate focus on cutting taxes and her reported preference for more “targeted” support.
“These are eye-watering amounts of money,” he told Sky News on the idea of a deficit fund. “I don’t think a universal freezing of everybody’s energy bills really helps to get taxpayers money to people who need it most.”
In a report published on Wednesday, the Institute for Government (IfG) said the cost of covering rising energy bills would amount to £23bn this autumn – rising to £90bn over the next year.
Meanwhile, refugee minister Lord Harrington has said the monthly £350 payments to sponsors of Ukrainian refugees should double to £700 to help them carry on hosting people for longer than six months amid the cost of living crisis.
Lord Harrington said he has been lobbying the Treasury “very hard” to double the £ “thank you” payment for Homes for Ukraine scheme sponsors.
“I can’t give them any guarantee right now,” Heappey told BBC Breakfast. “There are some that are finding it hard to continue to host their Ukrainian guests … Therefore we need to look at how we are going to continue to support them.”
Zelensky told Ukrainians in an emotional speech to mark 31 years of independence that his country was “reborn” when Russia invaded – vowing to recapture annexed Crimea and occupied areas in the east.
In Wednesday’s recorded speech, which falls on the six-month anniversary of Russia’s 24 February invasion, Zelensky said that Ukraine no longer saw the war ending when there was peace, but when Kyiv was actually victorious.