Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a disaster, says Boris Johnson in Kyiv

PM joins Volodymyr Zelenskiy to spell out consequences of Russian aggression and declare UK will be judged by the level of its support

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky (r), with Boris Johnson

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A Russian invasion of Ukraine would end in a humanitarian, political and military disaster for Russia and the world, Boris Johnson has warned as he stood alongside the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in Kyiv, saying the UK would be judged by the level of help it gave to Ukraine.

On a flying visit to the Ukrainian capital, he denied the US and the UK were exaggerating the scale of the Russian threat, saying they were not trying to “big up” the intelligence. “The grim reality” was that Russian troops were “massing on Ukraine’s border. This is a clear and present danger,” he said, addingthat the troop concentration was “perhaps the biggest demonstration of hostility to Ukraine in our lifetimes”, saying it dwarfed the Russian forces mounted before the invasion in 2014.

He said by holding a gun to the head of the Ukrainian people the Russian president was trying to get the west to dismantle the new security architecture set up after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He said the UK was trying to bring the west together, saying this crisis is about something bigger than Ukraine. “He [Putin] is trying to redraw the security map of Europe and to impose a new Yalta, new zones of influence. It would not just be Ukraine that was brought back into the Russian zone of influence. It would be Georgia and Moldova and other countries. This is absolutely critical, this moment.”

The press conference came after Vladimir Putin, speaking in Moscow, accused the US of ignoring Russia’s security proposals in his first public comments on the growing crisis over Ukraine since December.

A phone call between Johnson and Putin that the prime minister was forced to cancel on Monday has been rescheduled for Wednesday, after the Kremlin rejected a request to hold it on Tuesday. The Monday call was cancelled so Johnson could make a statement to MPs in parliament about Downing Street parties during lockdown.

Johnson was dogged by questions at the press conference about whether his domestic political crisis over the parties was making it impossible for him to focus on the Russian crisis. He insisted he was fully focused and said he would be talking to Putin on Wednesday. Their scheduled call had to be cancelled on Monday as Johnson was forced instead to spend two hours answering questions about the allegations of parties in Downing Street in breach of Covid regulations laid out in the report written by the civil servant Sue Gray.

Delegations led by President Zelenskiy and Boris Johnson hold talks in Kyiv

At one point during the press conference he was forced to say that he would publish everything he can of the final version of Gray report. He did not say he would publish everything Gray gives to him.

The Ukrainian president largely protected Johnson by refusing to repeat claims that the west was creating panic by hyping an imminent Russian invasion, and instead warned of a great war.

Zelenskiy said there were 35,000 to 50,000 Russian troops in Crimea, 35,000 in occupied Donbas, and 100,000 on his country’s international border with Russia.

“I’m looking forward to Russia withdrawing its army from our borders. We don’t need words. Just make that one step,” Zelenskiy said, adding Russians didn’t want to die in a war with Ukraine.

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Armed forces of Russia and Ukraine, compared

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Russia 

Army: 280,000, including 2,840 tanks and 6,920 fighting vehicles; 150 Iskander ballistic missiles; 4,684+ artillery; 1,520 surface-to-air batteries. 

Navy (just the Black Sea fleet): 6 submarines; 6 warships; 35 patrol ships. 

Air force: 1,160 combat planes, 394 attack helicopters, 714 air defence systems.

Ukraine

Army: 145,000, including 858 tanks and 1,184 fighting vehicles; 90 Tochka ballistic missiles; 1,818 artillery; 75+ surface-to-air batteries. 

Navy: 1 warship, 12 patrol and coastal ships. 

Air force: 125 combat planes, 35 attack helicopters; 6 medium TB2 drones; 322 air defence systems. 

Source: International Institute of Strategic Studies

He urged the west to slap sanctions on Russia now, rather than after the invasion had started. Johnson had said the sanctions would come into force as soon as “the first Russian toecap” crossed into Ukrainian territory.

“It’s vital that in Moscow they understand that there will be automaticity in the way that we apply these sanctions, so that the minute there is a further incursion into sovereign Ukrainian territory then those sanctions will apply,” Johnson said. “We’re bringing forward the new legislation [that] will enable us to pinpoint … strategic commercial interests of Russia in a very direct way, as well as individual Russian commercial interests.”

He added: “There are 200,000 men and women under arms in Ukraine, they will put up a very, very fierce and bloody resistance. I think that parents, mothers in Russia should reflect on that fact.”

In an attempt to put himself at the centre of events, he listed the world leaders to whom he has spoken in recent days, adding: “The people of Ukraine have the inalienable right to choose how they are governed and which organisations they aspire to join.”

But he stressed a step back from the brink is still possible, adding that he is ready to engage in dialogue.

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