Defence Secretary gives warning to other Nato defence ministers amid fears that France and Germany want Ukraine to cede territory to Moscow
The West must protect Ukraine from having a “gun put to its head” by Moscow in peace talks, Britain warned on Thursday, as the leaders ofFrance, Germany and Italy visited the war-torn country for the first time since Russia invaded.
Emmanuel Macron has claimed that France will be a “mediating power” in future negotiations but there are fears in Ukraine that the three visiting leaders will pressure Kyiv to agree to a quick and unjust peace deal to protect their economies.
“We stand with the Ukrainians without ambiguity. Ukraine must resist and win,” the French president said in an attempt to draw a line under criticism he has faced for warning Moscow could not be “humiliated” in defeat.
Speaking at a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Brussels, Ben Wallace said it was for Ukraine to choose “the manner and level of its negotiations” and it was vital that it did so from a position of strength.
“It is not for us to impose a view but it is also for us to protect Ukraine from effectively having a gun to its head when it is supposed to negotiate,” he said as the UK announced it was sending more than 20 Belgian long-range, self-propelled guns to Ukraine.
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, added: “Some outside Ukraine are questioning whether the free world can sustain its support and claiming that some are beginning to tire of this war.”
She announced sanctions for the forced transfer and adoption in Russia of 2,000 Ukrainian children taken from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Kyiv has accused France, Germany and, to a lesser extent, Italy, of foot-dragging in their support for Ukraine, saying they have been slow to deliver weapons. Ukraine also wants fresh sanctions against Moscow.
At a joint news conference with Mr Macron, Olaf Scholz of Germany, and Italy’s Mario Draghi, Volodymyr Zelensky said: “Every day of delay or postponed decisions is an opportunity for the Russian military to kill Ukrainians or destroy our cities.
“There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we receive, the faster we can liberate our people, our land.”
Mr Macron announced that he would send six additional artillery systems to Kyiv and vowed Europe would stand by Ukraine until its victory. Germany has promised to send multiple launch rocket systems.
Mr Scholz has dismissed allegations that he has held back much-needed military support, saying Germany was one of the biggest military and financial backers of Ukraine. He said German support would continue “as long as it is necessary for Ukraine’s fight”.
Putin views talks ‘as a weakness’
Before the visit, Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, said the three leaders would “say that we need to end the war that is causing food problems and economic problems”.
“When the West talks to Putin, he sees it as a weakness. He’s pushing. He killed people in Bucha and the West says we should save his face,” he said.
In May, Mr Zelensky said he had rejected a suggestion from Mr Macron that Ukraine would have to cede territory to Russia in peace talks.
In an interview with TF1 television on Thursday night, Mr Macron appeared to contradict his previous remarks, saying Ukraine alone should decide whether or not to accept any territorial concessions.
“This is up to Ukraine to decide,” Macron said when asked what concessions, including on its territory, Ukraine should accept, adding: “I think it is our duty to stand by our values, by international law and thus by Ukraine.”
Paris and Berlin agree that Russia must withdraw troops to the territory it held before the February invasion if peace talks are to begin. Mr Draghi said any peace terms had to be acceptable to Kyiv.
Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. Mr Zelensky has recently suggested that Ukraine could take back Crimea, which could put him on a collision course with the three leaders.
“We must win this war and return our occupied territories. This will be our common victory,” Mr Zelensky said, in a phone call with Joe Biden on Wednesday night.
Mr Macron, Mr Scholz and Mr Draghi travelled together by night train to Ukraine, along with Klaus Iohannis, the leader of Romania. Mr Macron said the visit sent a message of “European unity”.
The leaders, under heavy guard and dressed in suits without body armour, toured the town of Irpin, the scene of heavy fighting early on in the invasion. Standing by gutted, burnt-out buildings, they were told of Russian atrocities.
The show of support comes almost four months after the February 24 invasion and after visits to Kyiv from a string of Western leaders, including Boris Johnson.
Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, mocked the visit by “European fans of frogs, liverwurst and spaghetti” which he said was “of zero use” and “promised EU membership and old howitzers to Ukraine”.
The three leaders said they supported Ukraine being given candidate status to join the EU, which falls short of Ukraine’s demand for fast-track membership and can take years.