Putin issuing nuclear threats to cover up ‘catastrophic failure’ in Ukraine, says Truss

·5-min read

Vladimir Putin’s threats of nuclear retaliation against the West were today blasted by Liz Truss as a desperate attempt to justify the "catastrophic failure" of his invasion of Ukraine.

Ms Truss’s comments came after US president Joe Biden accused Putin of making “overt nuclear threats” to Europe and vowed that Washington will “stand in solidarity” against Russian aggression.

As world leaders gathered for the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Mr Putin sparked fears of a spiral into nuclear conflict by warning that Moscow was ready to use “all the means at our disposal” in its defence and adding: “It’s not a bluff.”

The Russian leader, who has not travelled to New York, ordered the mobilisation of 300,000 reservists to bolster his depleted invasion force and confirmed plans for referendums on joining Russia in the occupied Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Donetsk and Kherson.

But Biden dismissed this weekend’s votes as a “sham” and told the UN that Moscow had “shamelessly violated” the international body’s founding principles by invading a sovereign neighbour and acting with “reckless disregard” for its nuclear responsibilities.

In a speech to the General Assembly in the early hours of Thursday, UK time, Ms Truss was due to denounce Putin’s comments as “sabre-rattling” and say that the “strength of collective purpose” shown by the international community over Ukraine must not wane.

“In Ukraine, barbarous weapons are being used to kill and maim people,” she was expected to say. “Rape is being used as an instrument of war. Families are being torn apart. And this morning we have seen Putin desperately trying to justify his catastrophic failures.

“He is doubling down by sending even more reservists to a terrible fate. He is desperately trying to claim the mantle of democracy for a regime without human rights or freedoms.

“And he is making yet more bogus claims and sabre-rattling threats. This will not work. The international alliance is strong – Ukraine is strong.”

Restating her commitment to increase UK spending on the military from 2 to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030, she announced she had ordered an update to last year’s integrated security and defence review to take account of the heightened “threat of coercion from authoritarian powers like Russia and China”.

A shift towards home-grown nuclear and renewable energy would ensure that the UK “cannot be coerced or harmed by the reckless actions of rogue actors abroad”, she said.

And she added: “In the face of rising aggression we have shown we have the power to act and the resolve to see it through. But this must not be a one-off.

“This must be a new era in which we commit to ourselves, our citizens, and this institution that we will do whatever it takes – whatever it takes to deliver for our people and defend our values.”

In a TV address early on Wednesday, Mr Putin announced the partial mobilisation and accused the West of “nuclear blackmail”.

He alleged, without providing any evidence, that “leading Nato states” had discussed the use of weapons of mass destruction against Russia, and warned that his country possesses "various means of destruction" to deploy in response.

“If the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will use all available means to protect our people,” said Putin. “This is not a bluff.”

Speaking to the General Assembly, Mr Biden dismissed Putin’s claims of Western threats.

The conflict in Ukraine was “chosen by one man, to be very blunt”, he said.

“President Putin has made overt nuclear threats against Europe, and a reckless disregard for the responsibilities of a non-proliferation regime. Now Russia is calling up more soldiers to join the fight, and the Kremlin is organizing a sham referendum.

“This world should see these outrageous acts for what they are. Putin claims he had to act because Russia was threatened, but no one threatened Russia, and no one other than Russia sought conflict.”

Denouncing the war as “brutal” and “needless”, Mr Biden vowed: “We will stand in solidarity to Russia’s aggression.”

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said Putin was making “a big mistake” because the war was not going according to his plans.

French president Emmanuel Macron said: "His decision is bad news for Russian people, young people, and will increase isolation of his county.”

And Britain’s defence secretary Ben Wallace said Mr Putin’s actions were “an admission that his invasion is failing” and “Russia is becoming a global pariah”.

Foreign secretary James Cleverly was due to confront his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday over evidence of atrocities committed in Ukraine.

Speaking from the UK’s seat on the Security Council, Mr Cleverly will set out the UK’s belief that Moscow will fix this weekend’s referendums in the hope of providing “false legitimacy” for its illegal land grabs.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said that the initial wave of mobilisation would involve only reservists with relevant combat and service experience.

But military experts raised doubts over how quickly the additional manpower could make a difference to Russia’s performance in Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces have struggled to make progress in recent months.

“Mobilisation in Russia doesn’t solve them anything,” said Dr Mike Martin, a visiting fellow at the Department of War Studies at King’s College London.

“It takes months and months to turn civilians into soldiers. Russia needs soldiers yesterday, not in six months. It doesn’t solve their equipment problems or their logistic problems, nor the fact that their command structure is sclerotic and can’t make decisions.

“The move is designed for domestic consumption in Russia. The headbangers have been calling for a national mobilisation - and so here it is.”

Meanwhile there were reports of a sharp spike in purchases of air tickets by Russians fleeing the prospect of conscription, despite prices rocketing to as much as £8,000 for a one-way trip to Serbian capital Belgrade.

And Russian opposition groups called for protests against the escalation of the war.

In a video message from his jail, Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny said: "It is clear that the criminal war is getting worse, deepening, and Putin is trying to involve as many people as possible in this.

"He wants to smear hundreds of thousands of people in this blood.”

Opposition groups reported more than 100 arrests at demonstrations across Russia in the hours following Putin’s address.