Russian claims that Britain and its allies are planning to help Ukraine escalate the war have been rubbished by the defence secretary.
In a call with Ben Wallace, his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu alleged Ukraine was “planning actions facilitated by Western countries, including the UK” to “escalate the conflict in Ukraine”.
But in a short, straight-forward official statement after the call, the Ministry of Defence said: “The Defence Secretary refuted these claims.”
Image: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin with his defence minister Sergei Shoigu. Pic: AP It said both ministers had been “professional and respectful” during the call, but that Mr Wallace had “cautioned” Mr Shoigu against using such allegations as “a pretext for greater escalation”.
The exchange came after a second call in three days between Mr Shoigu and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin.
It follows a similar conversation between Mr Shoigu and his French counterpart on Sunday, where the Russian warned the situation in Ukraine was rapidly deteriorating and trending towards “uncontrolled escalation”.
He told Sebastien Lecornu, the French defence minister, that Moscow had concerns Ukraine could use a “dirty bomb” in the conflict.
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Some Russian nationalists have blamed Mr Shoigu for Moscow’s setbacks since the 24 February invasion and most recently for Ukraine’s rapid gains in the northeastern Kharkiv region, which saw several thousands of square kilometres of territory regained from Russian takeover.
In his call on Sunday, Mr Wallace also reiterated UK and wider international support for Ukraine and a desire to de-escalate the conflict.
“It is for Ukraine and Russia to seek resolution to the war and the UK stands ready to assist,” his statement added.