Boris Johnson warns world needs to brace for attack by 200,000 Russians on Ukraine border

British prime mininster states Putin 'must ultimately fail and be seen to fail'

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking in the House of Commons as he updates MPs on the situation in Ukraine and sanctions to be made against Russia. AFP
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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned the world to “brace” for a violent Russian offensive, with 200,000 troops poised on Ukraine's border “at peak readiness to attack”.

President Vladimir Putin’s assault on eastern Ukraine “must ultimately fail and be seen to fail” Mr Johnson told a full House of Commons, calling the Russian leader’s actions “absurd and mystical”.

He also announced new sanctions against three key people thought to be close to Mr Putin as well as five Russian banks.

Following the appearance of Russian troops in Donetsk and Luhansk, including tanks and armoured vehicles, it was clear that months of “patient diplomacy may be in vain”.

“We must now brace ourselves for the next possible stages of Putin’s plan: the violent subversion of areas of eastern Ukraine by Russian operatives and their hirelings, followed by a general offensive by the nearly 200,000 Russian troops gathered on the frontiers,” Mr Johnson said.

“If the worst happens, then a European nation of 44 million men, women and children would become the target of a full-scale war of aggression, waged without a shred of justification, for the absurd and even mystical reasons that Putin described last night.”

High-level visits to Moscow by French and German leaders along with numerous telephone calls from Mr Johnson and US President Joe Biden had “given Putin every opportunity to pursue his aims by negotiation and diplomacy”.

He stated that despite the evidence that “none of our messages has been heeded”, the West would continue to seek a diplomatic solution “until the last possible second”, even though Mr Putin appeared “implacably determined to go further in subjugating and tormenting Ukraine”.

Mr Johnson suggested Russia was now “establishing the pretext for a full-scale offensive” on Ukraine.

Addressing grim-faced MPs on both sides of the House, Mr Johnson said: “Members will struggle to understand how or to contemplate, how in the year 2022, a national leader might calmly and deliberately plot the destruction of a peaceful neighbour, yet the evidence of his own words suggests that is exactly what President Putin is doing.”

He then named the banks and people whose assets would be frozen, banned from travel to Britain and prohibited from having dealings with anyone in the UK.

Among those sanctioned are Igor Rotenberg, his uncle Boris Rotenberg who did judo training with Mr Putin, as well as banker Gennady Timchenko.

Five Russian banks were also named in the sanctions: Rossiya, IS Bank, General Bank, Promsvyazbank and the Black Sea Bank.

The prime minister said that more sanctions that could severely hinder Russian companies’ ability to raise cash in London and supply the Kremlin’s coffers could also soon be deployed, along with those from the US and the EU “if the situation escalates still further".

But Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, called on the British government to enact harsher punishments immediately.

He called for Russia to be excluded from the Swift banking system, for a ban on Russian sovereign debt and for the Russia Today English-language television channel to be “prevented from broadcasting as propaganda around the world”.

“A sovereign nation has been invaded in a war of aggression based on lies and fabrication,” he said. “If we do not respond with a full set of sanctions now, Putin will once again take away the message that the benefits for Russia outweigh the costs.”

The British sanctions come after Germany stated it would not be giving certification to the newly built Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

With fears that Mr Putin’s military ambitions could push Moscow into a wider war with Nato, Mr Johnson affirmed that he had told the Baltic states that Britain was willing to send more forces to aid in their defence if requested.

“We cannot tell what will happen in the days ahead but we should steel ourselves for a protracted crisis,” he said.

He said that Mr Putin had to understand that his military actions would “be a disaster for Russia” that would impoverish the country making it an “international pariah”.

He also cast doubt on the Champions League final being held in St Petersburg on 10 June.

“There is no chance of holding a football tournament in Russia that invades sovereign countries,” Mr Johnson said.

There were nods and murmurs of approval as Mr Johnson highlighted that Britain had trained 22,000 Ukrainian soldiers, supplied 2,000 anti-tank missiles and had sent £100 million in aid and a guarantee for $500 million of Development Bank financing.

The prime minister urged Britons to consider the Ukrainian people “who threaten no one and ask for nothing except to live in peace and freedom”.

He concluded by promising that Britain “will not waver in our resolve”.

Updated: February 22, 2022, 3:48 PM