NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 21: The UK will continue to stand in lockstep with Ukraine in defiance of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons, Britain's top diplomat said in an exclusive interview.
''We have seen this escalatory aggressive rhetoric coming from Vladimir Putin. What he should understand, what the world should understand, is that we will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainians because they defend their homeland against his aggression,'' Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told Anadolu Agency in a sit-down interview on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.
Neither Ukraine nor NATO has been a threat to Russia, he said.
Putin on Wednesday announced a mass mobilization in Russia of 300,000 reservists to support his flagging war effort in Ukraine. In doing so, he issued a dire threat of nuclear force as he and his proxies prepare to hold referendums to annex additional Ukrainian territory.
The decision to call up reserves is yet another sign that the Kremlin’s ''illegal'' and ''unprovoked'' war on Ukraine is not going according to plan, Cleverly said, urging Moscow to withdraw its troops.
''We know that Vladimir Putin had hoped to invade the whole of Ukraine in a matter of weeks. And now we're seeing months later the Ukrainian forces pushing the Russian forces back in much of the eastern part of Ukraine,'' he said.
Cleverly slammed Russian-backed plans to hold “sham” referendums in occupied territories of Ukraine, adding any polls ''would not be free, or fair, or legitimate.''
''They would not reflect the true desires, the will of the people in eastern Ukraine,'' he said.
''Rather than waste time and energy on these meaningless referenda, they should withdraw their troops, give Ukraine back to the Ukrainians, and allow them to rebuild their country.''
He also said that Western sanctions do not affect Russian food, fertilizer or ammonia exports, a rebuttal to claims often repeated by Moscow to skirt responsibility for a global food crisis.
Russian authorities have alleged that Western sanctions hinder the country’s grain and fertilizer exports despite a deal brokered by Türkiye and the UN enabling grain exports from Ukraine and Russia to address the crisis.
''Putin is using hunger as a weapon of war, and it is immoral and wrong for him to do so,'' he said.
He also praised Türkiye’s efforts to help broker what has become known as the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
''We very much value the role that Türkiye formed in negotiating the grain export deal from the Black Sea, and the work that they've done protecting the Montreux agreement,'' he said.
- UK supports UN reform
Cleverly also spoke about reforms at the 15-member UN Security Council and said the UK supports long-sought demands of other member states, including Türkiye.
''What we want to see is the UN continue to be an effective voice on the world stage. To be effective, of course, all institutions need to evolve,” he said. ''We do support United Nations reform. We want to do that, of course, in conjunction with the international community.”
The UN's most powerful body has faced criticism in recent years for failing to keep up with its primary responsibility to maintain international peace and security because of the veto powers of the five permanent members of the council.
The UK is one of the permanent members, alongside the US, China, Russia and France.
Ten elected non-permanent members rotate every two years