Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing global energy crisis have become one of the top foreign policy priorities of new British Prime Minister Liz Truss, as she and her American counterpart Joe Biden promised to strengthen their relationship in the face of Vladimir Putin’s aggression.
Truss’ call to Biden on Tuesday night followed a conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and focused on what she called “the extreme economic problems caused by Putin’s war. Biden and Truss “reinforced their commitment to strengthening global freedom, addressing the risks posed by autocracies and defeating Putin in Ukraine,” according to Downing Street.
No 10 noted the “enduring strength of the special relationship” with the United States, something that sometimes seemed tense under the reign of his predecessor Boris Johnson.
The leaders also pledged to deepen alliances through NATO and the Aukus Defense Pact, established to counter China’s dominance in the Indo-Pacific region.
The White House said the leaders discussed close cooperation to help Ukraine ‘defend against Russian aggression’, as well as challenges posed by China, Iran’s ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons, securing sustainable and affordable energy and the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement.
Truss’s first appeal to a foreign leader was to Zelenskiy. The prime minister, who is the UK’s fourth Conservative prime minister in six years, told him ‘Ukraine may depend on UK help in the long run’ and lamented Putin’s attempts to militarise energy. Accept an invitation to visit Ukraine soon, the new prime minister said it was “vital that blackmail from Russia did not deter the West from defeating Putin”, according to Downing Street.
Honored to be the subject of Truss’ first call, Zelenskiy hailed what he said was a “deep and productive relationship” with the new leader, with whom he discussed how to increase the pressure on the Russia and increase the costs of its invasion.
“It is very important that Britain retains a leading role in building up the free world and protecting freedom,” he said.
Truss and Biden could meet as soon as the UN general assembly later this month, but the issues raised by Brexit means it may not be a completely smooth welcome.
Biden, who has Irish roots, spoke with Truss on Tuesday evening about the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and “the importance of reaching a negotiated agreement with the European Union on the North Ireland protocol” amid reported concerns over his year-long tenure as Foreign Secretary which has seen post-Brexit tensions in Northern Ireland surface. For its part, Downing Street said the two leaders “agreed on the importance of protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement”.
The extended line on the protocol has severed UK relations with the European Union and led to the near collapse of the Stormont assembly, with the Democratic Unionist party refusing to re-enter the executive government until Brexit arrangements for the country changed. Truss is planning an early trip to Dublin, according to a report on Sunday, in what could pave the way for talks.
A US trade deal that some UK officials hoped could offset post-Brexit trade and economic upheaval has yet to materialize under Biden, who warned ahead of his 2020 election that he would not consent to a deal if Brexit damaged the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
Truss leads a country in the throes of a severe economic crisis, amid soaring energy costs and Bank of England forecasts of double-digit inflation and a long recession unless action has been taken.
With Reuters and Agence France-Presse