Boris Johnson speaks to President Zelensky as battle for Kyiv rages: PM hails ‘incredible bravery and heroism of the Ukrainian people’ as two leaders agree on the need to ‘isolate Russia diplomatically and financially’
The Prime Minister described Ukrainian citizens’ resistance as ‘heroic’ as they faced down the incoming forces.
Mr Johnson also took the moment to re-state the UK’s support and said the international community needed to do more to isolate Russia.
In a statement, No 10 said: ‘The Prime Minister spoke to Ukrainian President Zelensky this evening.
‘He paid tribute to the incredible heroism and bravery of President Zelensky and the Ukrainian people.
‘The leaders agreed that President Putin is being met with a greater Ukrainian resistance than he calculated on.
‘The Prime Minister updated on the UK’s support to Ukraine and the progress rallying international partners to hold Russia to account for their campaign of destruction.
‘The leaders agreed on the need for the international community to isolate Russia completely diplomatically and financially. They welcomed the increased willingness to take action on excluding Russia from SWIFT.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson meeting military personnel at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to thank them for their ongoing work facilitating military support to Ukraine and NATO
Britain has pledged to continue to supply arms to Ukraine’s embattled military forces
Military personnel board a C17 aircraft at RAF Brize Norton tonight after the meet took place
Local residents seen boarding an evacuation train driving to the west of Ukraine today
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Mr Johnson and the UK for the support
‘The Prime Minister and President Zelenskyy expressed their mutual concern about the role Belarus is playing as a conduit for President Putin’s violence.’
Mr Johnson spoke to him on the phone shortly before he was at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to visit military personnel.
Under darkness he thanked them for their ongoing work facilitating military support to Ukraine and NATO.
Britain has already pledged to continue to supply arms to Ukraine’s embattled forces.
So far 2,000 anti-tank missile launchers have already been sent and armed forces minister James Heappey said the Ministry of Defence is working on plans to support a resistance movement and a government in exile if Ukraine was finally overrun.
Yesterday Mr Johnson said Putin was on a ‘revanchist mission to overturn the post-Cold War order’.
The Prime Minister said the Russian president was trying to wind back the clock to the Soviet Union.
He made the comments as he pledged to level personal sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to echo those announced by the EU.
Smoke rises from a Russian tank destroyed by the Ukrainian forces on the side of a road in Lugansk region today
Dramatic video shows a destroyed Russian convoy with Z-markings near Kherson in southern Ukraine
In addition to the video of the destroyed convoy, another video purportedly showed the destruction of a 20-vehicle Russia military column in Kharkiv (pictured)
In a worrying sign, video from Russia’s Western border with Ukraine showed TOS-1 heavy flamethrower tanks moving towards its neighbour. The tanks are capable of firing high-power thermobaric weapons – dubbed the ‘father of all bombs’
Putin called Soviet Union’s end ‘Greatest geopolitical catastrope of the 20th century’
The Russian leader has said many times that he suffered the same misery as his compatriots when the Soviet empire crumbled, recently claiming he was forced to drive a taxi to make ends meet when he returned to his homeland.
Putin has claimed that the end of the Soviet Union was the ‘greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century’ – despite Russia living through two world wars.
He has called Nato’s expansion ‘menacing’ and claimed that the prospect of Ukraine joining the body is an existential threat to his country.
Since 1997, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania and Bulgaria have all joined Nato. To Putin and his supporters, this is proof of the West inching closer to Russia.
The Prime Minister told Nato leaders in a virtual meeting on Friday that the UK would also impose restrictions announced by the EU to target the Russian leader.
Referring to Mr Putin’s wish to recover territory which previously fell under the USSR, he said Russia was ‘engaging in a revanchist mission to overturn the post-Cold War order’.
Mr Johnson told allies ‘the UK would introduce sanctions against President Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov imminently, on top of the sanctions package the UK announced yesterday’, according to a No 10 spokesman.
‘He warned the group that the Russian president’s ambitions might not stop there and that this was a Euro-Atlantic crisis with global consequences,’ he said.
The Prime Minister also used the meeting to urge ‘immediate action’ over the banning of Russia from the Swift payment system to ‘inflict maximum pain’ on the Kremlin.
The move to sanction President Putin and Mr Lavrov comes after the European Union announced it was considering a similar move against the two men as it set out its latest round of measures in concert with the US and the UK.
The Government has faced criticism that it has still not gone far enough despite measures to hit five further oligarchs, and targeting more than 100 businesses and individuals.
With Russian forces continuing to advance towards Kyiv, beleaguered Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said sanctions had so far done nothing to deter the Russian onslaught.
Pictured: The tower block in Kyiv, just moments after being struck by a Russian rocket on Saturday morning
On Saturday morning, the upper floors of a building in Kyiv were struck by a Russian rocket (pictured). Reports suggesting at least two people were killed in the explosion
Meanwhile Western officials have warned that the Russians could resort to thermobaric weapons – used to generate powerful, high-temperature explosions – if the Ukrainian military resistance continues to hold up their assault.
Despite beginning the attack on Thursday, the Russian forces have yet to take any of the main population centres and officials believe they failed to achieve most of their day one objectives for the invasion.
One official noted that the Russians were known to have thermobaric weapons in their armoury and that they had used them in previous conflicts.
‘My fear would be that if they don’t meet their timescale and objectives, they would be indiscriminate in their use of violence,’ the official said.
Earlier Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg has said ‘the world will hold Russia and Belarus accountable for their actions’.
Addressing a press briefing following a virtual meeting of Nato leaders, Mr Stoltenberg said: ‘We call on Russia to stop this senseless war immediately.’
He warned that ‘the Kremlin’s objectives are not limited to Ukraine’ and that ‘we are facing a new normal in European security where Russia openly contests the European security order and uses force to pursue its objectives’.
He said: ‘President Putin’s decision to pursue his aggression against Ukraine is a terrible strategic mistake.’
Mr Stoltenberg added that although significant sanctions had already been announced ‘we must stand ready to do more, even if it means we have to pay a price, because we are in this for the long haul’.
The secretary-general said Nato had deployed thousands more troops to the eastern part of the alliance, and will ‘do what it takes to protect and defend every ally and every inch of Nato territory’.
Britain’s Chief of Defence Intelligence, Lieutenant General Sir Jim Hockenhull, said Russian forces were continuing to move towards Kyiv on two lines of advance.
‘Their objective is to encircle the capital, to secure control of the population and change the regime,’ he said. ‘Ukrainian armed forces continue to offer strong resistance.’
While there have been reports of sporadic fighting in the northern suburbs, most of the main Russian units were still thought to be more than 50km away.
President Putin stepped up his inflammatory rhetoric, urging Ukrainian troops to lay down their arms saying he would find it easier to negotiate with them, than ‘that gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis who have holed up in Kyiv and have taken the entire Ukrainian people hostage’.
Following the Nato meeting, alliance secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said it was clear the Kremlin’s objectives were ‘not limited to Ukraine’.
‘We are facing a new normal in European security where Russia openly contests the European security order and uses force to pursue its objectives,’ he said.
He said the alliance was deploying thousands more troops to the eastern member states – who fear they could be the next target of Russian aggression – would ‘do what it takes to protect and defend every ally and every inch of Nato territory’.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace ruled out calls for Britain to help mount a no-fly zone over Ukraine because the RAF fighting Russian jets would trigger a ‘war across Europe’.
‘He is trying to invade Ukraine. He won’t stop after Ukraine. He will use everything in the Baltic states. He doesn’t believe the Baltic states are really countries,’ Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
‘And we will have to stand up to it. Now, I cannot trigger a European war and I won’t trigger a European war but what I will do is help Ukraine fight every street with every piece of equipment we can get to them, and we will support them, and that is the reality.’