Vladimir Putin’s forces are abducting Ukrainian politicians, activists and journalists as Russia is failing to meet its military objectives, the UK's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said.
On Monday she condemned the “abhorrent tactic” after Ukrainian human rights group ZMINA claimed to have identified dozens of people who had been abducted, with thousands more deported to Russia.
Ms Truss said Mr Putin was resorting to “desperate measures” as British military analysts said Russia’s invasion was suffering from a lack of momentum, poor logistics and low morale.
“Putin continues to use abhorrent tactics against the Ukrainian people, including abducting innocent civilians," the foreign secretary said.
“He is not achieving his objectives and is resorting to desperate measures. Putin must fail in Ukraine.”
Ms Truss, in a statement to the House of Commons, later told MPs: “We know that Putin is not serious about talks, he is still wantonly bombing innocent citizens across Ukraine and that is why we need to do more to ensure that he loses and we force him to think again.
“We must not just stop Putin in Ukraine but we must also look to the long term. We need to ensure that any future talks don’t end up selling Ukraine out or repeating the mistakes of the past.”
ZMINA chief Tetiana Pechonchyk said: “Russia is detaining and disappearing civilians in an attempt to break the spirit of the Ukrainian people.
“Today we are publishing our first list of those who have been taken so the Kremlin knows the world is watching and will not allow them to come to harm.
“In total we have so far documented 39 cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions in the Ukrainian territories newly occupied by Russia.”
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has signalled he is prepared to offer a series of concessions to Russia to end the fighting.
Ukraine could declare neutrality and offer guarantees about its non-nuclear status as part of a peace deal, Mr Zelenskyy suggested, but he stressed the desire to ensure the country’s “territorial integrity” – stopping the Kremlin from carving it up.
Downing Street said the UK would support Ukraine’s negotiating position but Boris Johnson firmly believes that Mr Putin “must fail”.
Mr Johnson and Mr Zelenskyy “shared information about the peace talks” in a phone call on Monday.
The two leaders also “discussed strengthening sanctions against Russia” and defence co-operation between the UK and Ukraine, Mr Zelenskyy said.
The Government distanced itself from US President Joe Biden’s suggestion that Mr Putin “cannot remain in power” – an unscripted comment the White House was forced to row back on, insisting he was not calling for regime change in the Kremlin.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson “believes that Putin must fail in Ukraine and the sovereignty of Ukraine must be restored” ahead of the latest round of scheduled talks between the two sides’ negotiators on Tuesday.
“Obviously it would be for President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government to decide on the right approach to negotiations. We will support them in that,” the spokesman said.
“But it is not for the UK or any other country to seek to impose its will on the Ukrainian government as to what it should accept in those negotiations.”
British defence intelligence analysts said on Monday that Russia has gained most ground in southern Ukraine, in the vicinity of Mariupol where heavy fighting continued as Mr Putin’s forces attempt to capture the port.
But the Ministry of Defence “aggressive fighting by the Ukrainians” was keeping the Russians at bay.