Boris Johnson speaks of ‘genocide’ in Ukraine as Nato warns war could last years

Britain has unveiled further sanctions against Moscow, including a ban on investment in Russia

A Ukrainian soldier stands in front of a destroyed apartment block following Russian shelling in Borodyanka on Wednesday. AP Photo

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The atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine appear close to “genocide”, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, as Nato’s chief warned the war could drag on for years.

Days after the images of bodies dumped in a mass grave and human remains littering a street in Bucha shocked the world, western leaders ramped up sanctions against Moscow.

Six weeks on from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Mr Putin does not appear to have dropped “his ambition to control the whole of Ukraine”, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday as he warned the conflict could last for a long time.

“We have to be realistic and realise that this may last for a long time, for many months, for even years,” he said before a meeting of Nato foreign ministers. “And that's the reason why we need also to be prepared for the long haul, both when it comes to supporting Ukraine, sustaining sanctions and strengthening our defences.”

Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday warned the war in Ukraine could last for years. EPA

He said officials expect Russian troops to resupply and reposition with the aim of launching a renewed offensive in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

“They will be rearmed, because they've used a lot of ammunition and they will be resupplied with fuel and all the things they need, food and so on, to launch a new big offensive.”

Mr Johnson pledged Britain will be in the “front rank” of nations imposing a fresh set of sanctions on Moscow, in light of the grim discoveries made in Bucha, a commuter city 30 kilometres north-west of Kyiv.

Ukrainian officials have said the bodies of at least 410 civilians have been discovered in Bucha and other cities and towns around the capital recaptured from the Russians as their forces pull back.

Speaking during a visit to a hospital in Welwyn Garden City, Mr Johnson said the latest disclosures underline the need for the international community to tighten the economic pressure on the Kremlin.

“I'm afraid, when you look at what's happening in Bucha, the revelations that we are seeing from what Putin has done in Ukraine doesn't look far short of genocide to me,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban said he had urged Mr Putin to impose an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, and had invited the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine to meet the Russian president in Budapest.

“I suggested to President Putin that he declare an immediate ceasefire,” Mr Orban told a press conference on Wednesday, following a phone conversation with the Russian leader.

Mr Orban said he had proposed a meeting in Budapest between Mr Putin, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

He said the Russian president's response to the idea of a meeting “was positive, but with conditions”. He did not elaborate on the details but said that Mr Putin had initiated Wednesday's phone call.

The Hungarian leader previously had the closest relationships to the Kremlin of any EU member state. On Wednesday he reiterated his opposition to Hungary sending weapons to arm the Ukrainians and to the EU imposing an embargo on Russian energy imports, on which Hungary is highly dependent.

Asked about civilians found dead in Bucha, Mr Orban replied: “With all atrocities, we have to examine them, even though we live in an era of massive manipulation where we can't be sure if we can trust our own eyes".

He called for civilians to be protected “at all costs”, adding: “We want an independent, fair investigation".

The UN General Assembly will vote on Thursday on a UK and US push to suspend Russia from the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, diplomats said.

A two-thirds majority of voting General Assembly members in New York can suspend a country for committing gross and systematic violations of human rights. Russia is in its second year of a three-year term on the 47-member Human Rights Council.

The White House announced a new round of punitive measures against Russia, including sanctions targeting Maria Vorontsova and Katerina Tikhonova, Mr Putin's two adult daughters.

Also hit with new sanctions from the US were the wife and daughter of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and members of Russia's Security Council, including former President and prime minister of Russia Dmitry Medvedev and prime minister Mikhail Mishustin.

The European Commission has proposed a ban on coal imports, which could be adopted later on Wednesday if all 27 ambassadors agree to the plan. The EU depends on Russia for about 45 per cent of its coal imports, according to the Commission’s website, and payments to Moscow are used to finance Mr Putin’s war machine.

Britain announced new sanctions on Russia on Wednesday, including an asset freeze on Sberbank, the country's largest bank, and an end to all new UK outward investment in Russia.

The government also said it would end imports of Russian coal and oil by the end of 2022.

Asset freezes and travel bans on a further eight oligarchs linked to the Kremlin were also unveiled.

Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the latest round of sanctions were part of the UK's “campaign to bring Putin's appalling war to an end".

“Our latest wave of measures will bring an end to the UK's imports of Russian energy and sanction yet more individuals and businesses, decimating Putin’s war machine,” she said. “Together with our allies, we are showing the Russian elite that they cannot wash their hands of the atrocities committed on Putin's orders. We will not rest until Ukraine prevails.”

Updated: April 07, 2022, 8:45 AM