Boris Johnson said the world cannot stand by and let Ukraine’s freedom be ‘snuffed out’.
24 February 2022
The UK and allies will impose sanctions to cripple the Russian economy following Vladimir Putin’s “barbaric” assault on Ukraine.
Boris Johnson promised a “massive” package of economic measures in tandem with the US and European Union after the Russian president finally launched the invasion which had been feared for weeks.
In a sombre address to the nation, the Prime Minister said the world cannot stand by and allow the freedom of Ukraine to be “snuffed out”, as Moscow hit its neighbour with a wide-ranging attack, targeting cities and bases with air strikes or shelling.
“This act of wanton and reckless aggression is an attack not just on Ukraine, it’s an attack on democracy and freedom in eastern Europe and around the world,” Mr Johnson said from Downing Street.
A “vast invasion” has been launched by land, sea and air and “innumerable missiles and bombs have been raining down on an entirely innocent population”, he said.
Mr Johnson was woken with news of the invasion in the night and spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shortly after 4am.
The Prime Minister said: “Today in concert with our allies we will agree a massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy.
“Diplomatically, politically, economically, and, eventually, militarily, this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.”
The Prime Minister, US President Joe Biden and other leaders of G7 nations were holding a virtual meeting on Thursday afternoon to discuss their next moves.
Mr Johnson warned of the prospect of “grim” months to come, before echoing an earlier address from Mr Zelensky in speaking directly to the Russian public.
“I cannot believe this is being done in your name or that you really want the pariah status it will bring to the Putin regime,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Zelensky has declared martial law and called on Ukrainians to volunteer to fight for their country.
“We will give weapons to anyone who wants to defend the country. Be ready to support Ukraine in the squares of our cities,” he said.
In other developments:
– Russia’s ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin was summoned to the Foreign Office for the second time in a week to account for the “illegal, unprovoked invasion”.
– Transport Secretary Grant Shapps instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure airlines avoid Ukraine airspace “following the horrific events overnight” and carriers began suspending flights.
– Stock markets across the globe slumped and oil prices soared to levels not seen in eight years as a result of the crisis.
– RAF Typhoons were committed to patrolling the airspace on the borders of Nato members Poland and Romania with Ukraine.
– Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called for the “hardest possible sanctions” against Mr Putin’s “bandit rule”.
The Kremlin has claimed it is only targeting Ukrainian air bases and other military assets, not populated areas.
But Western officials fear an attack on the capital Kyiv could result in bloody urban warfare, with civilian lives at risk.
In a televised address, Mr Putin warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen”.
He said Russia does not intend to occupy Ukraine, and claimed responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian “regime”.
Explosions were heard in Kyiv moments later, while blasts were also reported in the cities of Odesa and Kharkiv.
A Ministry of Defence intelligence update shortly after 12.30pm said there had been more than 80 strikes at Ukrainian targets, while ground forces were advancing across the border from at least three points, including from the previously annexed Crimea.
The first targets included Ukrainian air defences, designed to ensure Russia’s aerial superiority in the conflict.
Reports suggested Russian troops had captured an airport on the outskirts of Kyiv.
Western officials have reported forces crossing over from Belarus, where they have been engaged in large-scale exercises, and from Russian-occupied Crimea.
They are also said to have moved into the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Mr Putin has recognised the two breakaway “republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Officials say it is unclear whether he intends to take control of the entire country.
However they believe his objectives include Kyiv and the port city of Odesa, as well as joining up Crimea, which he seized in 2014, with the Donbas.
Ukrainian forces have been putting up resistance, with reports that at least one Russian warplane has been brought down.
However analysts believe the combination of aerial superiority, precision munitions and artillery firepower gives Moscow’s forces a marked military advantage.
There are particular concerns now about the prospect of an assault on Kyiv, a city with a population of more than 2.8 million.
In the past, such as in the Chechen capital Grozny, Russian forces having shown they are willing to use overwhelming firepower if they cannot achieve their objectives quickly, potentially resulting in large-scale civilian casualties.