Rishi Sunak has said that Russia must withdraw its troops from Ukraine before any peace agreement can be considered in the 10-month conflict.
The prime minister’s comment came in a phone call today with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in which Mr Sunak confirmed that more UK anti-air guns and short-range air defence missiles will arrive in the coming weeks.
It came as Russian president Vladimir Putin said that an agreement would have to be reached “in the end” but that he was wary to do so because of what he perceived as Western duplicity over the Minsk accords of 2014 and 2015.
Mr Putin said that “trust is almost at zero” following an interview in which former German chancellor Angela Merkel suggested that the agreements were intended to buy time for Ukraine, which had used it to make itself stronger.
“An agreement will have to be reached in the end, all the same,” said the Russian leader. “I have said many times that we are ready for these agreements, we are open, but this makes us think who we are dealing with.”
Western officials have recently indicated that talks could be possible if Putin pulls his troops back to pre-24 February positions and ceases his bombardment of Ukrainian territory.
But Mr Zelensky has consistently insisted that Russia must exit all Ukrainian territory – including Crimea, which was seized in 2014 – before any talks take place.
In today’s call, Mr Sunak backed the Ukrainian president’s stance.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “Both leaders agreed on the importance of pre-empting Russia’s insincere calls for a ceasefire, and the prime minister added that the Kremlin needed to withdraw its forces before any agreement could be considered.”
No 10 said that Mr Zelensky had thanked the UK for the supply of generators to restore electrical power in Ukraine following the waves of Russian attacks on critical national infrastructure.
“The prime minister paid tribute to the success of Ukraine’s armed forces in intercepting dozens of potentially devastating missiles this week, and said the UK was thinking of the Ukrainian people as they continued to defend their country through the winter,” said the Downing Street spokesperson.
“Updating on the latest lethal aid deliveries from the UK, the prime minister said that more anti-air guns and further short-range air defence missiles would arrive in the coming weeks.”
Speaking during a visit to the former Soviet state of Kyrgyzstan, Mr Putin said that Ms Merkel’s comments had undermined trust in the Minsk agreements between Kyiv and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, which were brokered by Russia, France and Germany.
Asked about possible peace talks, the Russian president said: “We thought we would still be able to agree within the framework of the Minsk peace agreements.
“What can you say? There is a question of trust, and trust of course is almost at zero.”
“It turns out that no one was going to fulfil all these Minsk agreements and the point was only to pump up Ukraine with weapons and prepare it for hostilities.
“After a statement like that, the question arises of how to negotiate, about what, and is it possible to negotiate with someone, and where are the guarantees?”