British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kiev as tensions between Russia and Ukraine increased, one of a number of visits on Tuesday designed to demonstrate increasing western support.
Ukraine announced an expansion of its army by 100,000 troops, taking the total number to 350,000 in the next three years. Army pay was also increased.
The UK has pledged £88 million ($118.2m) in new funding to support the Eastern European nation and reduce its reliance on Russian energy.
“We have done all this and prepared all this not as a show of hostility towards Russia, but as a demonstration that we will always stand up for freedom and democracy and Ukrainian sovereignty in the face of aggression,” Mr Johnson said.
He added: “It is vital that Russia steps back and chooses a path of diplomacy, and I believe that is still possible, we are keen to engage in dialogue, of course we are, but we have the sanctions ready, we're providing military support, and we will also intensify our economic co-operation.”
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also visited Kiev, promising to deliver more weapons to Ukraine including portable air defence systems, drones, mortars and ammunition.
He said that Russia’s neighbours felt like they were living “next to a volcano”.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said the US and its allies have ignored Russia’s top security demands but added that Moscow remains open to more talks.
“I hope that we will eventually find a solution, although we realise that it’s not going to be easy,” Mr Putin said.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Affairs Minister Wopke Hoekstra were also scheduled to arrive in Kiev on Tuesday for talks with the president.
Mr Morawiecki criticised Germany for considering the certification of the newly-built Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that would carry Russian natural gas to German consumers, bypassing transit countries Ukraine and Poland.
Britain’s Conservative-led government is extending its sanctions regime to include oligarchs and businesses with ties to the Kremlin.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said the UK was adopting “the most robust approach on sanctions”.
Later this week, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Ukraine for discussions.
Several foreign ministers, including those of Germany and France, are also expected there this week and the next.
On Tuesday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was scheduled to travel to Moscow, where he will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
About 100,000 Russian troops, tanks, artillery and missiles are stationed near Ukraine’s frontiers. Mr Putin said there are no plans to invade.
Mr Johnson had plans to speak to Mr Putin on Monday but a time could not be agreed after the prime minister’s defence of his leadership and the “Partygate” scandal ate up most of his day in London.
Downing Street said there was no “settled time” for the call and there were hopes that the two leaders will speak.
British Labour Party shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the delayed call showed there were “real-world consequences” of having a prime minister fighting for his political survival.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who was to accompany Mr Johnson to Kiev, pulled out of the trip after learning she had Covid-19.
Speaking to MPs in the House of Commons on Monday, she declined to name any people at risk of being sanctioned, insisting the aim was to create the maximum level of anxiety in Mr Putin’s circle. The new legislation is expected to be in place by February 10.
The £88m pledged by the UK — part of the its Good Governance Fund — will help to “support stable governance and energy independence” by promoting transparency and anti-corruption initiatives and efforts to reduce Ukraine’s reliance on Russian energy supplies.
“It is the right of every Ukrainian to determine how they are governed. As a friend and a democratic partner, the UK will continue to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of those who seek to destroy it,” Mr Johnson said before the visit.
“We urge Russia to step back and engage in dialogue to find a diplomatic resolution and avoid further bloodshed.”
Meanwhile, the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee launched an investigation into the “dirty money” associated with corruption.
The announcement came as concern about cash flowing into London from Russia increased.