Liz Truss has urged the UK and its allies to prepare for a potential implosion of Russia following the Wagner Group’s mutiny.
Vladimir Putin has been “significantly weakened,” according to the former Tory prime minister, as a result of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary squad delaying their march on Moscow on Saturday in order to save “shedding Russian blood.”
She emphasised that “we must not use this time to let up in our support for Ukraine” and cautioned against complacency.
The former foreign secretary emphasised that any talks about agreements, concessions, or the removal of sanctions should be put on hold until “war criminals are held to account” and renewed calls for Ukraine to be acceded to NATO quickly.
Speaking in the Commons after James Cleverly made a statement on the situation in Russia, she said: “It’s clear that Putin has been significantly weakened in Russia.
“We must not use this time to let up in our support for Ukraine.
“So, first of all, we need to make sure the Ukrainian membership of Nato is fast-tracked at the Vilnius Nato summit. Secondly, we need to make sure there is no talk of deals or concessions or lifting of sanctions on Russia in any circumstances until the war criminals are held to account.
“Finally, we and our allies, including the Ukrainians, including the Poles, including the Baltic states, need to make sure that we have a plan in the case of the implosion of Russia. Does he agree?”
The Foreign Secretary replied: “I have said regularly that Ukraine’s transformation on the battlefield proves how serious they are about the reform programme that will see them ultimately become a member of Nato. That action should mean that however long that Nato membership would otherwise have taken, it should of course now be truncated.”
Mr Cleverly added: “She is absolutely right that we should recognise that some of the talk about cutting a deal, Ukraine sacrificing some of its sovereign land in the pursuit of what would only be an artificial and perhaps even just temporary peace, is completely inappropriate.
“Putin will not stop until he has been ejected from Ukraine by the Ukrainian people, and to that end we will continue to support them until they have achieved that end.”
Tobias Ellwood, a conservative lawmaker who serves as leader of the Commons Defence Committee, said: “Putin may be wounded, Putin’s days may be numbered, but he is likely to stoop low in order to stay in power and to justify his invasion of Ukraine.”
With claims that 8,000 Wagner fighters will be stationed in Belarus, Mr. Cleverly vowed to keep a “very, very close eye” on their movements elsewhere in the Commons.
Conservative MP Bob Seely (Isle of Wight) told the Commons: “The latest news, if it is to be believed, is that 8,000 Wagner mercenaries are going to be joining Yevgeny Prigozhin in Belarus in a small town called Asipovichy where some bases, I understand, are being built under dictator (Aleksandr) Lukashenko’s request.
“Without wishing to speculate whether this brigade-sized force is going to – in the short to medium-term – be a greater threat to Lukashenko or to Putin, will he reassure us that their movements, that this base, is going to be very closely monitored given its proximity not only to Russian nuclear weapons – and we’ve seen the very dual loyalties that the Russian army has towards Wagner – but also now their proximity to Nato borders?”
Mr Cleverly replied: “I’m not at all sure I’d be very comfortable with 8,000 Wagner fighters being my friends anywhere or anytime soon.
“We have made it absolutely clear to the Belarussian government that we expect them not to be involved and not to facilitate attacks into Ukraine. We will, of course, keep a very, very close eye on reporting around the locations and activity of those Wagner fighters in Belarus.”
Concerning attempts to label the mercenary Wagner Group as a terrorist outfit, Mr. Cleverly declined to comment.
Labour MP Dan Jarvis said: “It was widely reported back in May that the UK Government was actively considering proscribing the Wagner Group as a terrorist organisation.
“Accepting it is early days, can I ask the Foreign Secretary whether an assessment has yet been made as to what the ramifications would be for Putin if he sought to amalgamate the Wagner Group into the Russian conventional armed forces?”
Mr Cleverly replied: “We do of course keep the decisions around proscription of organisations open … but he will also know that we do not typically comment on future proscriptions or designations.
“We have, of course, looked at the implication back in June when the announcement came out that volunteers were going to be contracted to the Russian ministry of defence – we did, of course, look at the implications of the sanctions structure and others on that.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss the outcome of those deliberations.”