Britain says Ukraine must not be pressured into giving up territory for peace with Russia

Negotiations between the two sides are ongoing, three weeks after Putin invaded his neighbour

Rescue workers move the body of a victim killed when a shell hit a residential building in Kyiv on Friday. Reuters
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Britain’s armed forces minister says Ukraine should not be pressured into making territorial concessions to Russia as part of any peace deal to end the war.

James Heappey said the West may have a role to play in brokering an agreement between Kyiv and Moscow, but insisted it would be up to the Ukrainians to decide what terms they could accept.

“This can’t go on indefinitely,” he told Sky News. “If the West has a role to play alongside others beyond the region in brokering that peace and offering something the Ukrainians and the Russians can live with, that’s fine.

“What I absolutely don’t think we should do – and I have heard some around the West suggest this – is somehow Ukraine should be pressured to give up the Donbas or to give up its claim on Crimea.

“Those are decisions entirely for President Zelenskyy and his government. It is not for the West to trade away Ukrainian sovereignty.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy this week showed signs of a possible compromise when he said his country “must admit” that it will not join Nato. The former Soviet nation launched its application to join the transatlantic military alliance in 2008.

"For years, we have heard about the supposedly open door, but we have also heard that we should not enter, and this is true and we must admit it," he said.

Despite the ongoing negotiations, Gen Sir Richard Shirreff, a former deputy supreme allied commander of Nato, warned of a possible escalation in the war if President Putin does not get his way.

“Putin cannot accept defeat and therefore, in typical KGB style, if he is facing trouble in one direction he could cause even greater trouble in another,” he told Sky News.

He said the West should “be absolutely on our guard” for a potential chemical attack by the Russians.

The former military chief also warned of a possible attack on a Nato member state, saying the 30-member alliance should be prepared for “the use of tactical nuclear and quite potentially some sort of attack against Nato territory”.

He said to deter such an attack, estern leaders should be clear with Russia about the implications of any such assaults.

He said the bolstering of Nato forces on the alliance's eastern flank was also key to deterring Russia’s aggression.

Despite the ongoing atrocities being committed by the Russians in Ukraine, Gen Shirreff said a Nato-imposed no-fly zone would be a step too far.

He said if Nato did go down this route it should be prepared “to fight a general war against Russia because that is where it would lead”.

“A general war could easily go nuclear,” he said.

Mr Heappey said Mr Putin bears ultimate culpability for any war crimes being committed by his forces in Ukraine, but said the entire Russian military chain of command would be held responsible for their actions.

“Every single person in the military chain of command cannot just hide behind the line they are only following orders,” he told Sky News. “They too are involved in the prosecution or war crimes in Ukraine. This is a stain on the Russian nation.”

On Friday Russian troops continued their assault on Ukrainian cities with new missile strikes and shelling on the outskirts of Kyiv and the western city of Lviv.

At the beginning of the war, thousands of people fled west to Lviv because it was perceived as less likely than other cities to be attacked.

The early morning barrage of missiles on the outskirts of Lviv were the closest strike yet to the centre of the city, which has become a crossroads for people fleeing from other parts of Ukraine and for others entering to deliver aid or fight.

Black smoke billowed for hours after the explosions, which hit a facility for repairing military aircraft near the city’s international airport, about seven kilometres from the centre. One person was wounded, regional governor Maksym Kozytskyy said.

Updated: March 18, 2022, 10:46 AM