UK's new leader slams Putin, hails queen in debut UN speech

·4 min read

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Wednesday accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of making “saber-rattling threats” to cover his failed invasion of Ukraine, as she told the United Nations that its founding principles were fracturing because of aggression by authoritarian states.

In her debut speech to the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday night, Truss called the war in Ukraine a battle for “our values and the security of the whole world,” and extolled the late Queen Elizabeth II as a symbol of everything the U.N. stands for.

Responding to a statement from Putin that he was mobilizing reservists and would use everything at his disposal to protect Russia — an apparent reference to his nuclear arsenal —Truss accused the Russian leader of “desperately trying to justify his catastrophic failures.”

“He is doubling down by sending even more reservists to a terrible fate,” she said. “He is desperately trying to claim the mantle of democracy for a regime without human rights or freedoms. And he is making yet more bogus claims and saber-rattling threats."

“This will not work. The international alliance is strong — Ukraine is strong,” said Truss, who addressed the U.N. on the same day Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to the global gathering by video.

In a speech outlining her view of foreign policy in a world turned upside down by Russia’s invasion, Truss spoke of the queen, whose funeral on Monday was attended by many of the world leaders now gathered at the United Nations.

She said the queen “symbolized the postwar values on which this organization was founded.” She said the monarch, who died this month after 70 years on the throne, “transcended difference and healed division.”

Truss referred to a speech to the U.N. by the queen in 1957, in which Elizabeth said “the peoples of the world expect the United Nations to persevere in its efforts” to end conflict and crisis.

Truss said the monarch had “warned that it was vital not only to have strong ideals but also to have the political will to deliver on them. Now we must show that will.”

In her first international speech since becoming prime minister two weeks ago, Truss hailed the founding principles of the United Nations, while calling for new international alliances to circumvent the influence of authoritarian regimes.

She said “geopolitics is entering a new era” in which “authoritarian states are undermining stability and security around the world.” That was a direct shot at Russia — and also at China, whose growing clout among developing nations is a major concern for the United States and its allies.

Truss said the world’s democratic powers must woo developing nations with “strategic ties based on mutual benefit and trust” rather than “exerting influence through debt, aggression, and taking control of critical infrastructure and minerals.”

She also called for a toughening of the West’s response to Russia’s invasion. She urged sanctions on Russia and said “the G-7 and our like-minded partners should act as an economic NATO,” supporting countries targeted by “the economic aggression of authoritarian regimes.”

She urged nations to find alternatives to Russian oil and gas and protect supply chains for everything from food to minerals. “The free world needs this economic strength and resilience to push back against authoritarian aggression and win this new era of strategic competition,” she said.

Truss said post-Brexit Britain was “building new partnerships around the world,” citing its role in NATO and the Joint Expeditionary Force military group of northern European nations, whose importance has increased since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

She also pointed to deepening ties with “fellow democracies like India, Indonesia and South Africa” and trade ambitions with Indo-Pacific and Gulf states, a sign that Britain, now outside the European Union, sees the rest of the world — and especially Asia — as a political and economic priority.

The speech amounts to a bold statement of the new prime minister’s world view. But Truss is likely to draw criticism for linking the global fight for freedom and democracy to her own plans to change Britain’s economy.

Saying that “our commitment to hope and progress must begin at home,” Truss said demonstrating the strength of democracy “begins with growth and building a British economy that rewards enterprise and attracts investment.” To Truss, a Conservative free marketeer, that means cutting individual and corporate taxes and slashing regulations for business.

Opponents say tax cuts reward the rich more than the poor and will do little to ease a cost-of-living crisis, fueled largely by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that has pushed U.K. inflation to 10%, a level not seen in four decades.

Despite the economic shockwaves, Truss said Britain’s commitment to defending Ukraine “is total.”

“This," she said, “is a decisive moment in our history, in the history of this organization, and in the history of freedom.” ___

Follow AP coverage of the U.N. General Assembly at https://apnews.com/hub/united-nations-general-assembly