Rishi Sunak confronted Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at the G20 summit overnight, telling him to ‘get out of Ukraine and end this barbaric war’.
In the first face-to-face clash between a British Prime Minister and a senior Kremlin figure since the war began, Mr Sunak said the ‘Putin regime’ had turned Russia into a pariah.
He said it is unacceptable for any country to invade its neighbours, kill civilians and threaten nuclear war, adding the UK will back Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’.
But Lavrov hit back, peddling Kremlin propaganda that the West was responsible for waging ‘hybrid warfare’ in Ukraine and that Kyiv’s ‘unreasonable demands’ are to blame for ‘dragging it out’.
The veteran diplomat, attending the conference instead of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who was ‘too busy’ to show up, cynically suggested Russia is trying to solve the world’s food and energy shortages – when in fact Moscow stands accused of causing them.
While Mr Sunak took a hard stance on Russia, he was accused of going soft on both China and Saudi Arabia. He refused to confirm Beijing will be labelled a ‘threat’ to the UK and failed to raise the murder of Jamal Khashoggi with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
That is perhaps a sign that the UK sees itself being preoccupied by Ukraine and Russia’s invasion for the foreseeable future. Lavrov did little to raise the hopes of a peace deal when he spoke.
‘All problems are with the Ukrainian side,’ he said at a press conference after the main summit was over. ‘[Kyiv] is categorically refusing negotiations and putting forward conditions that are obviously unrealistic.’
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is ‘not listening’ to the advice of other Western leaders, Lavrov suggested, saying he had laid out Moscow’s position in talks with French president Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz.
‘The more Ukraine refuses to talk, the harder it will be to reach an agreement,’ Lavrov added.
Zelensky, addressing the conference remotely, did say that it was time to end the war – but added that peace could only be achieved when Russia withdraws all of its troops from all occupied territory.
Kyiv will not compromise its sovereignty, territory or independence in return for peace, Zelensky added, as he called for the release of all Ukrainian prisoners.
‘I am convinced now is the time when the Russian destructive war must and can be stopped,’ he told the summit on the island of Bali.
‘Please choose your path for leadership – and together we will surely implement the peace formula,’ he said.
Kyiv also welcomed Chinese comments criticising threats to use nuclear weapons, after US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met on Monday.
The two leaders ‘underscored their opposition to the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine,’ the White House said in a readout of the meeting in Indonesia on the eve of the summit.
‘Nuclear weapons should not be used and nuclear wars should not be fought,’ Xi told Biden, according to China’s foreign minister Wang Yi who was at the meeting.