As Western diplomats scramble to resolve growing tensions with Moscow, the UK’s top diplomat has reportedly made a major error during crunch talks, allegedly proclaiming that London would never recognize the sovereignty of two regions universally considered to be part of Russia.
In an article published by Moscow daily Kommersant on Thursday, two Russian diplomatic sources claimed that British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss made the faux-pas while speaking in head-to-head discussions with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov.
According to the outlet, London’s top diplomat stressed that Moscow must withdraw its armed forces from the frontier with Ukraine, at which Lavrov reiterated that the Russian military is stationed in its own territory and has the right to conduct maneuvers within its borders.
The veteran Russian official is said to have turned to Truss and asked whether London recognizes Moscow’s sovereignty over the regions of Rostov and Voronezh, where large troop movements are said to have taken place in recent days, close to the Ukrainian border.
After a moment’s contemplation, the British diplomat reportedly replied that the UK “will never recognize Russia’s sovereignty over these regions.” The interaction is said to have spurred Deborah Bronnert, the UK’s ambassador to Moscow, to swoop in and quietly remind her colleague that the two are actually considered Russian territory even by her own government.
Later in the day, Truss explained that she initially thought Lavrov was talking about a part of Ukraine and that she had subsequently made it clear that these regions are in fact part of Russia.
Kommersant’s report follows shortly after Lavrov and Truss held high-stakes discussions in the Russian capital. Moscow's top diplomat expressed his dismay at the outcome of their exchange.
“Nobody is hearing each other, and unfortunately our efforts to explain ourselves have not been heard,” Lavrov said.
London has issued several warnings in recent weeks, claiming that a buildup of Russian troops along the demarcation line with Ukraine could be a precursor to an offensive, accusations which the Kremlin has repeatedly denied. Truss has previously threatened harsh sanctions, insisting that if Moscow were to wage an incursion, embargoes that would damage the country’s economy would ensue.
Earlier in February, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova slammed Truss for confusing two different parts of Europe when she proclaimed that London was “supplying and offering additional support into our Baltic allies across the Black Sea” – despite the fact that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are located over 1,000km away from the southeast European body of water.
“Mrs. Truss, your knowledge of history is nothing compared to your knowledge of geography,” Zakharova wrote on her Telegram channel. She added that the world needs to be saved from the “stupidity and uneducatedness of Anglo-Saxon politicians.”