President Vladimir Putin could use any peace talks over Ukraine as an opportunity to rebuild Russia’s battered forces for a fresh onslaught, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has warned.
Mr Cleverly said Western powers needed to be “very, very careful” if the Russian leader sought to initiate negotiations purporting to seek an end to the conflict.
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said there was a risk “a ceasefire is actually just used by Putin to train up more troops and to produce more ammunition and to refit his damaged armed forces and to rearm his armed forces”.
His warning came after US President Joe Biden said he would be prepared to talk to Mr Putin if he was genuinely looking to end the war – something that has not happened so far.
French President Emmanuel Macron has also said he would carry on speaking to the Russian leader to try to prevent any further escalation and to achieve “very concrete results” such as ensuring the safety of nuclear plants.
However, Mr Cleverly, who this week attended a meeting of Nato foreign ministers in Bucharest, questioned whether Mr Putin would really engage “in good faith”.
“The point is that we’ve got to be very, very careful if ‘peace’ talks – and I use the word ‘peace’ in inverted commas there – (are) initiated by Vladimir Putin,” he said.
He said that if the Russians used any pause in the fighting simply as cover to rearm, there could be even further trouble down the line.
“Then all that will happen is we’ll see exactly these scenes again, but maybe, what, I don’t know, six, 12, 18 months’ time,” he said.
He added: “The resolution to this needs to be sustainable, it needs to be meaningful, it needs to be real.
“What we have got to watch out for is a pause being utilised by Russia as just a way of making sure that its next phase of aggression is more effective than this current phase.
“And look, Vladimir Putin has got form on this. Georgia, that was going to be a one-off, wasn’t it? Crimea, that was going to be a one-off, wasn’t it? Eastern Ukraine, that was going to be a one-off.
“And actually what we saw is they were all building up towards this most latest wave of aggression.”