UK ‘key player’ in Ukraine talks

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Published: Saturday 7th February 2015 by The News Editor

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Britain remains a “key player” in efforts to end the conflict in Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond insisted as he prepared for talks over a German and French-led diplomatic mission.

Mr Hammond dismissed as “ludicrous” claims by Britain’s former top Nato commander General Sir Richard Shirreff that David Cameron had become “a diplomatic irrelevance” in the crisis.

He is joining other foreign ministers – including US secretary of state John Kerry – at a security conference in Munich where allies are due to be briefed on the latest negotiations with Moscow.

German chancellor Angela Merkel – who was joined by French president Francois Hollande for talks with Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin yesterday – remained the “best chance” of securing a deal, Mr Hammond said.

A peace plan developed in four hours of talks described by all sides as “constructive and substantive” is to be put to Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko tomorrow.

It was pressure from the UK that ensured tough sanctions were imposed that pushed Mr Putin to the negotiating process in the first place, Mr Hammond said.

“We are about to sit down here and have a meeting to discuss where we go now, what the options are,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

“We will decide, together, what is the best way to go forward. The United States and the United Kingdom will be at that table with France and Germany.

“What is being painted is a ludicrous proposition that France and Germany are somehow doing their own thing. It is inconceivable that without the United States there will be a solution to this crisis.

“The United States was not at that meeting in Moscow but it will be at the meeting here in Munich this morning and that is where the next stage of decision-making will occur.”

In a direct rebuff of the ex-military chief’s criticisms, the former foreign secretary said: “This is a collaborative process. It is no good somebody like General Shirreff from the outside trying to paint this as something different from what it is.

“This is the free world, the international community of nations, trying to face down the bully-boy tactics of Russia and we have got to use all the tactics at our disposal and Mrs Merkel is one of those weapons.”

The German chancellor “has the most effective channel to President Putin and we have to use the channels that we have”, he said.

“In my judgment, that channel of communication between the chancellor and the Russian president is the best chance we have of negotiating an effective solution to the problem in the Ukraine.”

Gen Shirreff was “not involved in this process”, he pointed out.

“Britain has been, throughout, a key player in the European Union sanctions regime, which is what is applying the pressure. That is why the Russians are talking at all, because of the pressure.

“It is Britain, along with the Netherlands in particular, who have pressed for the hardest possible sanctions regime and it hasn’t been easy to keep all 28 European Union members in line.

“That has been a very important part of what we have been doing.”

Published: Saturday 7th February 2015 by The News Editor

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