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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a “hideous and barbaric venture” that must end in failure.
In a televised address from Downing Street, Mr Johnson said the British people stood with Ukraine in its “moment of agony”.
He also vowed to inflict a huge package of economic sanctions to “hobble” the Russian economy, and said he would seek to end Britain’s dependence on its oil.
“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.
The Prime Minister criticised Mr Putin for having “unleashed war in our European continent”, attacking Ukraine “without any provocation and without any credible excuse”.
“Innumerable missiles and bombs have been raining down on an entirely innocent population,” Mr Johnson said.
“A vast invasion is under way by land by sea and by air.
“We, and the world, cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out. We cannot and will not just look away.
“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.”
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel earlier described Russia’s attack as “unjustifiable” and said British officials were on high alert for cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns from Moscow.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told Russia’s ambassador to Britain, Andrei Kelin, that Moscow should expect a “long, protracted conflict” with vast costs.
A UK Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The Foreign Secretary said the Russian government had repeatedly lied about having no plans to invade Ukraine, and its unprovoked aggression had made it an international pariah.
“She condemned Russia’s outrageous attack on Ukraine as a clear breach of international law.”
Ms Truss is understood to be preparing for a “flurry of phone calls” to rally allies in support of Ukraine today, starting with EU foreign affairs policy chief Josep Borrell.
Mr Johnson and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke last night as Russia launched its assault.
“I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskyy to discuss next steps,” Mr Johnson said on social media.
“President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine.
“The UK and our allies will respond decisively.”
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly described Mr Putin’s rhetoric in his televised address – in which he warned that interference from the international community would lead to consequences – as bullying tactics.
“The international community stands shoulder to shoulder with the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people in their defence of their homeland.
“If Vladimir Putin thinks that he can scare the international community away from supporting Ukrainians in defence of their homeland, he is absolutely wrong on that and should be under absolutely no illusion that we will continue to support the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian people.”
Mr Cleverly said news that further sanctions are imminent has sparked a “huge reduction in Russia’s economic abilities to fund this invasion”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The sanctions package that will be put in response to this is already actually having an effect. Just the announcement that it’s coming – we’ve seen the Russian stock market, the equivalent of the FTSE, drop by over 30 per cent.
“That is a huge reduction in Russia’s economic abilities to fund this invasion.
“And those sanctions will be laid today and over forthcoming days to really prevent Russia from funding this invasion.”
He also said Mr Putin has used a “thin veneer of justification for his aggression”.
Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Tugendhat condemned Russia’s “vile act of war” against Ukraine as he criticised the UK government for imposing weak sanctions on Monday.
The Conservative MP told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Mr Putin’s actions could “not be tolerated” by any party and must incur “extremely hard” penalties.
“I’m afraid weak sanctions like the ones that were imposed on Monday just encourage others to believe we are weak because we’re clearly not willing to do anything serious,” he said.
“So what that did, I’m afraid on Monday, was it didn’t deter, but encouraged, because it gave the suggestion or made clear that we weren’t willing to do anything serious.
“If we are going to do sanctions, as I say, we need to do them extremely hard and extremely early.
“This is a vile act of war and an aggression which really cannot be tolerated by any party.”
Gen Sir Richard Shirreff said Britain could soon be at war with Russia.
Also speaking on the Today programme, the retired army officer said any incursion into Nato territory would bring Britain into direct involvement in the conflict.
Gen Shirreff said it was “entirely plausible” that Mr Putin could be aiming to revive the Soviet Union.
If Russia puts “one bootstep” into Nato territory, the entire alliance will be at war, he said.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York condemned the attack on Ukraine as “an act of great evil”.
In a joint statement, the Most Rev Justin Welby and the Most Rev Stephen Cottrell urged Christians to make Sunday a day of prayer for Ukraine, Russia and for peace.
Britain’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure airlines avoid Ukraine air space “following the horrific events overnight”.
Ukraine International Airlines, which links London Gatwick Airport with Kiev, has suspended all flights to and from Ukraine.
“The UIA team takes all possible measures to ensure the safety of our passengers,” the airline said.
Ryanair has suspended its Ukraine flights for at least the next two weeks.
The UK Foreign Office said people should not attempt to cross from Russia into Ukraine.
Melinda Simmons, the ambassador in Ukraine, repeated a call for Britons to leave the country.
The London Stock Exchange’s leading FTSE 100 index plunged more than 200 points, or 2.7 per cent, within moments of opening in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Petrol and diesel prices have reached record highs, piling on more pain for British consumers.
Figures from data firm Experian Catalist show the average cost of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts on Wednesday was 149.43 pence (199.34 US cents), while diesel cost 152.83 pence.