Russian minister says UK-Russia ties ‘close to zero’

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Russia’s Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Friday Moscow’s ties with London were at a low point as he met UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace for rare talks amid soaring tensions over Ukraine.

“Unfortunately, the level of our cooperation is close to zero and about to cross the zero meridian and go into negative, which is undesirable,” Shoigu said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

He said he hoped for talks “without any escalation and raising the temperature even higher” in relations between Russia and the NATO bloc.

Shoigu also accused the West of “gorging” Ukraine with weapons. “It is coming from all sides and it is done publicly. It is done demonstrably. Not entirely clear why,” he said.

At a news conference following the talks, Wallace described the
conversation with the Russian minister as “constructive and frank”.

“I heard clearly from the Russian government that they have no
intention of invading Ukraine,” Wallace told reporters.

He added that Britain only supplies Ukraine with “defensive
tactical weapons”.

“They in no way would pose a threat to an external state as long as that state did not invade the country,” Wallace said.

Wallace, who is accompanied by the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff Tony Radakin, also met with the powerful chief of staff of the Russian army Valery Gerasimov.

He is the latest Western official to shuttle to Moscow in a
desperate effort to find a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis.

Russia has around 100,000 troops stationed near its borders with Ukraine, with the West fearing the Kremlin could order an attack.

Wallace’s visit comes a day after Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Liz
Truss, met with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow for talks that appeared to be fruitless and ended in mutual accusations.

Relations between London and Moscow are at an all-time low, with Russia singling out the UK as particularly hostile of all the Western countries.

The last meeting between a UK and Russian defence minister took place in 2013.