UK can be proud of support for Ukraine, PM tells ministers

Boris Johnson said the invasion of Ukraine had been a ‘dark day’ for Europe.

24 February 2022

Vladimir Putin has launched “a cynical and brutal invasion for his own vainglorious ends”, Boris Johnson has said, as he approached the end of what he called a “dark day in the history of our continent”.

The Prime Minister addressed his Cabinet on Thursday evening, having earlier announced the “largest and most severe” package of sanctions Russia has ever faced to punish “blood-stained aggressor” Mr Putin for invading Ukraine in the early hours.

Mr Johnson said the UK could be proud of its role in the fightback, including for providing lethal defensive weaponry to the Ukrainian government.

He told ministers that “Putin must fail”.

Meanwhile, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex said they “stand with the people of Ukraine”.

Earlier, Mr Johnson set out his second barrage of sanctions to “hobble the Russian economy”.

Mr Johnson said he was sanctioning “all the major manufacturers that support Putin’s war machine”, will ban Aeroflot from touching down planes in the UK and will freeze the assets of all major Russian banks, including immediately against VTB.

But he resisted calls from some MPs and Ukraine’s ambassador to London to support Nato introducing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Mr Johnson is understood to have pushed G7 leaders to cut Russia out of the Swift system, a type of international bank sort code.

Cabinet meeting
Defence secretary Ben Wallace and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss leaving Downing Street (James Manning/PA)

In a White House briefing, US President Joe Biden said the move was “always an option but right now that’s not the position that the rest of Europe wishes to take”.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was reported to have said that certain measures should be “for a situation where it is necessary to do other things as well” when asked about Swift, while Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was a “sensitive” issue “because it would also have an enormous impact on ourselves”.

But Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted those who opposed Russia being blocked from the Swift payment system would have “the blood of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children… on their hands”.

Among the new UK sanctions introduced were measures to hit five further oligarchs, including the Russian president’s former son-in-law, and to target more than 100 businesses and individuals.

Mr Johnson said the measures are “the largest and most severe package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever seen”, but vowed to go further.

“We will continue on a remorseless mission to squeeze Russia from the global economy piece by piece, day by day and week by week,” he told MPs.

Russian invasion of Ukraine
Ukrainians hold a protest against the Russian invasion of Ukraine outside Downing Street (James Manning/PA)

The five new oligarchs being hit include Kirill Shamalov, Russia’s youngest billionaire who was formerly married to Mr Putin’s daughter Katerina Tikhonova.

In the US, Mr Biden also announced extra sanctions to target Russian banks, oligarchs and high-tech sectors, with more troops deployed to Germany to bolster Nato.

“Putin is the aggressor,” Mr Biden said. “Putin chose this war, and now he and his country will bear the consequences.”

In a sombre address to the nation at midday, Mr Johnson said the world cannot stand by and allow the freedom of Ukraine to be “snuffed out” amid the Kremlin’s attack on “democracy and freedom in eastern Europe and around the world”.

He said 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”.

Mr Johnson was woken with news of the invasion in the night and spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shortly after 4am.

By just before 9pm, Ukraine’s health minister said 57 people had been killed as a result of the invasion, with 169 more wounded.

Ukrainian cities and air bases have been hit with airstrikes and shelling, and the country lost control of the Chernobyl nuclear site.

But Mr Johnson told ministers “the Ukrainian military was fighting back in defiance of Putin’s attempts to subjugate Ukraine”.

In Russia, there were reportedly protests in the streets against the action, and Mr Johnson said these “demonstrated that Putin’s actions would also face resistance from within his own country”.

Tom Keatinge, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) defence and security think tank, said the latest sanctions did “begin to deliver on the threatened massive consequences”.

But he added: “Of course, no one should ever expect sanctions to achieve their objectives alone, they need to be part of a package of responses and must be deployed with intent and clear objectives.

“The questions therefore are what other responses does the West have to offer; how much further are the allies willing to go; and at what cost to their own economies as Russia inevitably hits back?”

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