Russia’s foreign minister has described a two-hour meeting in Moscow with his British counterpart as “disappointing” and “a dialogue of a mute person with a deaf person”, as European countries engage in a diplomatic push to prevent another Russian attack on Ukraine’s territory.
Speaking to the press on Thursday, Sergei Lavrov said Liz Truss’s delegation had come “unprepared”, as he reiterated that the Russian military build-up around Ukraine posed no threat, and that Moscow’s security demands in Europe had been ignored. Meanwhile Truss demanded Russia withdraw the more than 100,000 troops massed on the border with Ukraine.
Truss’s visit is the first by a UK foreign secretary to Russia in more than four years.
“I am disappointed that our conversation was the dialogue of a mute person with a deaf person,” Lavrov said. “We appear to listen to each other, but we do not hear each other.”
He characterised the closed-door talks as combative and ineffectual and Russian-British relations as being “at their lowest point for many, many years”.
Truss said: “I certainly wasn’t mute in our discussions earlier. I put forward the UK’s point of view on the current situation as well as seeking to deter Russia from an invasion of Ukraine.”
She disputed Moscow’s argument that Nato’s eastward expansion in the past two decades posed a threat to Russia. “No one is undermining Russia’s security. That is simply not true,” Truss said.
She instead pointed to the threat to Ukraine posed by Russia, which annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, fuelled a proxy war in the country’s far eastern Donbas region, and has now massed troops and military equipment along Ukraine’s eastern flank. Truss’s visit coincided with the start of large-scale Russian-Belarusian military exercises in neighbouring Belarus.
The tone of the comments contrasted sharply with talks held on Monday in Moscow between presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Emmanuel Macron of France that opened with an amicable exchange and lasted more than five hours.
British diplomats had said on Wednesday that Truss would seek to project a harder line with Russia, focusing more on deterrence than other European partners including France by insisting on the economic consequences of another invasion of Ukraine.
“Minister Lavrov has said to me today that Russia has no plans to invade Ukraine, but we need to see those words followed up by actions,” Truss said on Thursday. “We need to see the troops and the equipment that is stationed on the Ukrainian border moved elsewhere.”
Lavrov said western concerns about the military build-up, the largest in Europe in decades, were “incomprehensible anxieties”.
While Macron said he had received assurances that Putin would not escalate tension, the US on Wednesday warned that Russian troops and gears had been deployed in the past few days.
In addition to the joint Belarus exercises, week-long naval drills starting from Sunday were also announced by the Russian defence ministry. These are likely to block Ukraine’s maritime shipping lanes in the Black and Azov seas.