President Vladimir Putin’s ambition to take control of Ukraine and make it part of Russia looks doomed after a string of atrocities, a former British ambassador to Moscow has said.
The trail of death, torture and destruction which Russian soldiers left behind when retreating from towns and cities around Kyiv shocked the world and drew international condemnation.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy accused Mr Putin of genocide after a mass grave containing at least 57 bodies was found in Bucha, a city 16 miles north-west of the capital.
The remains of five men showing signs of torture were also discovered in the basement of a children’s health centre, Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office said. “Torture chamber was discovered in a children's sanatorium in Bucha by prosecutors and Kyiv Regional police officers,” prosecutor Iryna Venediktova said on Twitter.
Human Rights Watch claims it has seen evidence of executed civilians in Bucha and other cities, while a Ukrainian MP said dead children as young as 10 had shown signs of being raped.
Sir Andrew Wood, a former British ambassador to Russia, said the grim developments rule out any chance of Mr Putin winning the support of the Ukrainian people, even if he manages to take control of the entire country.
Speaking to Sky News on Tuesday, after the horrors of Bucha sent shock waves around the world, he said the actions of the Russian soldiers in Ukraine were “unforgivable”.
“Even if Putin won and dominated the entire country or the eastern part of it or whatever it is, he would not now be able to secure the support of Ukrainian people whom he has described as the same people as the Russian people,” Sir Andrew said.
“This is absolutely unforgivable. People do not forget such things.”
Mr Wood said Putin's forces were in an impossible position in the conflict, and said he believes far more Russians sympathise with Ukraine than the numbers cited in polls.
He said it had been a shock to the Russian leadership to realise his country is “so inept militarily” and Moscow had been equally surprised by the tough fight put up by the Ukrainians.
Mr Zelenskyy has accused Mr Putin of committing war crimes in Ukraine.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Monday hit out at the Russians’ “butchery” and cited evidence of rape and indiscriminate killing of civilians in Bucha.
Mr Wood said the Russians, being “vigorous deniers”, would no doubt refuse to take blame for any wrongdoing when they speak at an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
In its latest intelligence update, Britain's Ministry of Defence said some units of Russian troops are retreating from parts of northern Ukraine and towns are back under the control of the Ukrainian military.
The MoD said the strong resistance was "denying Russia the ability to secure its objectives".
"Low-level fighting is likely to continue in some parts of the newly recaptured regions but diminish significantly over this week as the remainder of Russian forces withdraw.
"Many Russian units withdrawing from northern Ukraine are likely to require significant re-equipping and refurbishment before being available to redeploy for operations in eastern Ukraine."
Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the House of Commons defence select committee, called on the UK government to tighten the noose on the Russian economy with more sanctions and send more weapons to Ukraine.
The Conservative MP said it was time to step up the pressure on Moscow to prevent Russians soldiers from committing “further genocide” in the former Soviet nation. The images coming out of Bucha “are the most barbaric yet”, he said.
“We condemn the slaughter from afar and we have a little bit of blame there for when we choose to limit our exposure for fear of potential escalation,” he told Sky News. “We give Putin the green light to exploit our timidity with ever-increasing breaches of Geneva Conventions as the war crimes clock up.”
Mr Ellwood called for Nato troops to be posted in the southern city of Odesa, which the Russians are pushing to capture, as it serves as a “critical lifeline to the rest of the world”.
Ukraine is the fifth largest exporter of wheat, accounting for seven per cent of sales globally in 2019, and the Black Sea port of Odesa handles about 60 per cent of the country’s sea cargo.
“If it falls, Ukraine becomes landlocked and for Russia that will be a success,” he said. “Those vital grain exports we all depend on will not be able to get out. If we want to avoid another Mariupol, we should step up and task a Nato maritime force to keep the port connected to international waters.”
Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, called for Ukraine to be offered more support in the form of more sophisticated arms, not only “defensive weapons”.
Asked on Times Radio if all “reasonable battlefield weaponry” should be provided to Ukrainian forces, the Conservative MP said: “Yes. I don’t think there’s any really great doubt in this.
“That’s a decision for various member states. And that’s a decision for countries like Poland or the United States. You could retrain a Ukrainian pilot to fly various US-type aircraft in the weeks that have gone by, so there’s various options that we could have.”
Asked if there are any war crimes that would convince Nato countries to order “boots on the ground”, Mr Tugendhat suggested direct intervention by the transatlantic alliance would be “a bad idea”.
“The only reason I think it’s a bad idea is because at the moment this is a battle between Putin and his thieves – quite literally, if you look at what’s going on on the ground, these murderers and rapists – and the Ukrainian people.
“If it becomes a Nato versus Russia battle, then it might actually conversely solidify Putin’s position. That’s why I think it’s a bad idea.”