A summit between Boris Johnson and Vladimir Putin might be possible if Russia’s president ceases “malign activity” against the UK and its allies, the defence secretary has signalled.
But the senior minister told Sky News that Western powers would judge Moscow on what it does next before any warming of ties, which have been brought to a post-Cold War low by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Salisbury spy poisonings.
Asked if he thought the Kremlin might want relations with the UK to improve, the defence secretary said: “I hope so. But we will judge them on their actions. Diplomacy is only valuable if the actions that follow actually make a difference.”
He said he remained concerned about an incident last month when the Russia-backed regime of Belarus forced a civilian airliner to land and seized a journalist on board.
“We, unfortunately, still see malign activity. But I think we will judge President Putin by his actions,” he said.
As to whether there was a chance of a UK-Russia summit, Mr Wallace indicated it was a possibility if the Russian president showed some positive signs of change.
“Boris Johnson is clearly open to meet anyone where there is an important step to be made and stepping towards normalising relations with Russia will obviously and hopefully come, but it comes following certain actions,” he said.
“Crimea is still illegally occupied in Ukraine and there are still things to resolve.”
Pressed again on whether he hoped such a summit could possibly happen, the defence secretary said: “I don’t want a permanent friction between Russia and the West. That is not in anybody’s interest.
“It is not in the interests of the Russian people, it’s not in the interests of the economy of Russia, it’s not in the interests of my population and constituents either.
“Listen, no one wants conflict. No one wants friction but that is not cost-free, you have to lift that based on behaviours.”
He said the Kremlin must recognise and respect “other people’s sovereignty and the international rule of law” before any improvement in relations, such as a lifting of sanctions, could happen.
“But we’ve always got to offer people a path out, a path to improvement and I think that bilateral between President Biden and President Putin is a really welcome start,” Mr Wallace added, referring to the summit in Geneva on Wednesday.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a multinational military exercise at a base in the south of Serbia, about six miles from the border with Kosovo.
Troops, equipped with armoured vehicles, a helicopter and a small drone, practised how to respond to a terrorist attack on a convoy and deal with rioting civilians, as Mr Wallace, Serbian defence minister Nebojsa Stefanovic and other officials watched from a stand.
With 70 British soldiers involved, the UK was the largest foreign contributor to the exercise – dubbed “Platinum Wolf” – which takes place across two weeks and, as well as Serbian forces, includes troops from eight other nations, such as France and the United States.
The visit by Mr Wallace is evidence of the UK’s desire to strengthen ties with a country it once bombed as part of a NATO mission during the Kosovo War more than 20 years ago, but which it previously fought alongside during both world wars.
“The Balkans matter for the security of Europe,” Mr Wallace said. “It’s always mattered. That is why 80 years ago we were standing on hills together side by side pushing back the Nazis. That importance, that geographic importance, that strategic importance still matters today.”
Underlining the challenges in this region, at the same time as British troops train with the Serbian military, forces from Serbia are conducting an exercise with their Russian and Belarussian counterparts in Russia.
Asked whose forces Serbia liked training with more – British or Russian – the Serbian defence minister told Sky News: “We are militarily neutral, so we don’t have to prefer to train with either, we can choose both and that’s our advantage.
He added: “We get the best from East and West in training capabilities, in learning about the tactics… As a militarily neutral country we want to work with everyone in order to get our army as professional as possible.”
Group try to steal Banksy mural from wall in Ukrainian town
A group of people tried to steal a Banksy mural from a battle-scarred wall in Ukraine, the governor of the region has said.
They managed to slice off a section of board and plaster bearing the image of a woman in a gas mask and dressing gown holding a fire extinguisher.
But they were spotted at the scene in the city of Hostomel, near Kyiv, and the mural was retrieved, Oleksiy Kuleba said in a statement.
He added that the image was still intact and the police were protecting it.
“These images are, after all, symbols of our struggle against the enemy… we’ll do everything to preserve these works of street art as a symbol of our victory,” he said.
Police shared images of the yellow wall in Hostomel, with had a large patch cut all the way back to the brickwork.
They said a number of people were arrested at the scene.
One shows a female gymnast balancing on a damaged building, while another depicts a man resembling Russian President Vladimir Putin being flipped during a judo match with a little boy, and another shows two children using a metal tank trap as a seesaw.
Banksy’s work can sell for millions of pounds on the art market.
Sajid Javid stepping down at next election
Sajid Javid has announced he will not stand in the next general election, saying being an MP had been “the privilege of [his] life”.
The former chancellor, who has held a number of senior roles in government alongside his Bromsgrove seat, is the most high-profile Tory MP to decide to step down at the next national vote, expected in 2024.
It comes amid reports the Conservative Party has told its MPs to decide about their future by Monday, with a number of younger members already confirming their exits.
He has also made the announcement on the day Labour secured an historic majority in the City of Chester by-election, with stark warnings that such a swing nationally could cause the Tories big problems the next time the country goes to the polls.
In a letter to his party chairman posted on Twitter, Mr Javid said it was “a decision I have wrestled with for some time”, but one that had been “accelerated” due to the party deadline.
“Being the local MP and serving in government has been the privilege of my life and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to serve,” he said.
“I always sought to make decisions in the national interest, and in line with my values, and I can only hope my best was sufficient.”
He pledged the decision would not impact his work as an MP during his remaining time in office, adding: “I will of course continue to support my friend the prime minister and the people of Bromsgrove in any way I can.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he was “sad to see my good friend… stepping back from politics”, tweeting: “He’s been a proud champion of enterprise and opportunity during his time in government and on the backbenches – particularly for the people of Bromsgrove.”
Ending with a Star Wars quote, the PM added: “May the Force be with you, Saj.”
Mr Javid first came into parliament in 2010 at the start of the coalition government, and got his first job on the front bench in 2012 as economic secretary to the Treasury.
Over the past 12 years he has held some of the highest offices of state, including home secretary and chancellor of the Exchequer.
Mr Javid quit the latter role in 2020 – less than three months into the job – after the then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his senior adviser Dominic Cummings insisted he sack his aides and replace them with ones chosen by Downing Street.
He returned to Mr Johnson’s top team as health secretary in June 2021 after Matt Hancock resigned after being caught on CCTV kissing one of his aides and breaking his own COVID guidance.
But he was the first minister to resign in the wave of exits that led to Mr Johnson’s downfall over the summer, followed minutes later by then-Chancellor and now Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Mr Javid twice ran for the leadership of his party, but lost out to Mr Johnson and his successor, Liz Truss.
Blitz spirit in Kyiv as heat, light and water supplies are knocked out for days
The host of a conference in Kyiv alerted guests that air raid sirens were sounding, before assuring them they were safe and the event would carry on as planned.
It is a small example of how people across Ukraine are learning to cope with the unpredictability of war while carrying on with their lives in a test of endurance that has been likened – in its spirit – to what the UK lived through during the Blitz in the Second World War.
Stepping onto the stage at the Kyiv Security Forum, amid the air raid warning, was Vitali Klitschko, the city’s major.
He is overseeing support for residents at a crucial moment following several waves of Russian missile strikes against energy infrastructure since early October.
Last week, they knocked out the lights, heat and water supplies for much of the capital for up to two days – a brutal taste of how bad conditions could become, if more attacks cause even graver damage as winter bites.
Mr Klitschko said he wanted to speak bluntly about the risk, telling his audience that the people of Kyiv need to be prepared for various scenarios “even the worse one” – with power out for a prolonged period of time.
He offered this advice: “Stock up on water, non-perishable food and warm clothes. Also anyone with friends or relatives who live in rural areas away from the city should talk with them and be prepared to move out there if necessary, should conditions worsen.”
Asked afterwards by Sky News whether he was worried that Russia could freeze residents in the city to death with its missile strikes, he said the priority was to be prepared.
“The main goal of Russians, we know, they tried to destroy our infrastructure, critical infrastructure, they want to freeze us. But we have to be prepared for any case, also for [a] worst case scenario,” he said, speaking in English.
“That is why everyone in the city government has to know what we have to do in a critical situation, how we can help the people because it will be [a] catastrophe if the Russians totally destroyed our infrastructure. It will be [a] humanitarian catastrophe.”
At the same time, he underlined the determination of residents to endure: “It’s our cities, our homes. We don’t want to leave. The Russians try to bring depression on our citizens… I talked to our citizens. They are very angry and ready to stay and ready to fight.”
As for whether what Kyiv residents were having to endure could be likened to the Blitz spirit, the mayor said: “It is [a] pretty similar situation [to the] Second World War in London.”
That spirit of defiance was on display at a local food market, where shoppers bustled from stall to stall almost as normal – despite the knowledge Russia could launch a new missile strike at any moment.
Halyna and Georgii Bohun said they have not left Kyiv since the first day of the full-scale invasion on 24 February.
They likened their country’s experience – in terms of carrying on despite the dangers – to what people in the UK felt during the Blitz.
“We were thinking: if they survived after such bombardment, we will also survive,” Halyna, 60, a pharmacy worker, said.
Her husband even compared Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Winston Churchill.
“Sometimes they even use similar words, even their minds are similar,” said Georgii, 73, a retired energy industry worker.
The pair said they had enjoyed a lull in missile strikes over the past week, but were ready for worse to come.
“We are not afraid,” said Halyna. “What will be will be. But we are for freedom and only for our country’s victory.”
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