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Ian Proud - Blog - The Kremlin
  • Writer's pictureIan Proud


Updated: Feb 26

Lord Cameron, the eighth Foreign Secretary in nine years, was quick to visit Kyiv after his anointment.  If Britain’s diplomatic efforts were judged by our relationship with Zelensky, then we’d score A+.  We have positioned ourselves as Ukraine’s most steadfast ally.  Streets in Ukraine have been named after Boris Johnson.

But is unequivocal support enough to end a war that in almost two years has killed – even by the most conservative estimates - as many people as during the ten years of the Balkans conflict? 

The short answer is no.

While our influence in Kyiv is sky high, we have no influence in Moscow. Philip Hammond insisted that there should be no Ministerial ‘business as usual’ with Russia, a position that didn’t change under the six Foreign Secretaries that followed him. 

Ministerial cancellation became diplomatic.  Russia’s Ambassador Andrei Keilin enjoys scant access in Whitehall and is barked at by the likes of Laura Kuennsberg on the BBC. 

So, the British Ambassador has no access either and is often harassed in public by rent-a-mobs working for Russian intelligence.  On Russia’s state-owned TV, Vladimir Solovyov threatens to sink Britain under nuclear tidal waves. 

With government Ministers drip-fed opinions by ‘advisers’ who regard public servants as pillocks, investment in Russia expertise at the Foreign Office has been in decline for decades.  Young diplomats arrive at the Embassy and tremble inside, scared to venture out because they haven’t passed their Russian exams.  Diplomatic reports are often press cuttings regurgitated through Google translate.

The accomplished Diplomat due to become British Ambassador this year was told by Liz Truss that they would not be going to Russia, as it would not be a good use of their skills. Our current man in Moscow is a cardboard cutout in a Potemkin Embassy on Smolenskaya Embankment.

So, Russia has far more, well-trained diplomats (and therefore spies) in our country than we have in theirs.  Despite Bo-Jo’s bravado, the UK got a much bloodier nose from the diplomatic tit-for-tat that followed the Salisbury nerve agent attack.  I should know; I was in Moscow at the time.

Britain’s biggest putative achievement - western unity on economic sanctions - has only stiffened Putin’s resolve.  Nevertheless, Westminster politicians, pundits and the armchair intelligentsia are utterly convinced our Russia strategy is working. 

Keep calm and cancel on.

However, the political and logistical sands of western policy towards Ukraine are shifting, with fatigue, as focus drifts to other conflicts, including Gaza, and as allies struggle to meet supply targets.  At best, Ukraine will receive from western allies as much military equipment in 2024 as it received in 2023.  More likely, it will receive less. 

Zelensky vocally rejects suggestions that he should cut a deal. We have spent two years telling him that Britain and other western allies will send weapons ‘for as long as it takes’.  After a summer offensive that has delivered little, the line of contact in Ukraine between Russian and Ukrainian forces is unlikely to move much over the coming year. 

So, no one knows how long it will take.

Russia seems content to maintain a high-intensity stalemate on the battlefield knowing the pressure that is putting on Ukraine’s allies.  As battlefield realities bite deeper, the obvious need for a diplomatic solution will grow. 

Because the Foreign Office knows Russia has the resources to keep fighting for another two years, at least.  And we can’t fill the gap if American supplies to Ukraine trail off: the UK has committed the billions we saved by cutting overseas aid in 2020 on weapons and, to quote Liam Byrne, “I’m afraid there is no money”.

The only positive difference we can make is in Kyiv.

In April 2022, Liz Truss – then Foreign Secretary number six - encouraged Ukraine not only to retake land taken by Russia after war broke out but, through military means, retake Crimea and the parts of the Donbass occupied by Russian separatists in 2014. This was trademark Truss, showing a point of difference in the Tory party with an idiotic policy punt that was utterly disconnected from reality.  Ukraine agreed, widened its war aims and since April of 2022 has refused to budge.

David Cameron – Foreign Secretary number eight – is a different political animal and after the disaster of Brexit, is on the comeback trail. He needs proper advice from the few Russia experts left in Whitehall to see, through the waves of self-congratulation, that UK policy is failing Ukraine.  He should encourage Zelensky to put his suit back on and negotiate a ceasefire. 


Ian Proud was a British Diplomat from 1999 to 2023.  He served at the British Embassy in Moscow from 2014-2019 and has authorised a significant chunk of the UK sanctions imposed on Russia.

Why Britain should encourage Zelensky to negotiate

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