An estimated 450 Russian soldiers have died in the conflict in Ukraine so far and Vladimir Putin failed in his military objectives on the first day of fighting, the UK defence secretary has said.
Wallace also rebuffed pleas on Friday morning from Ukrainian and some Conservative politicians for the UK to implement a no-fly zone over Ukraine, arguing that introducing one would amount to declaring war on Russia.
“Our assessment as of this morning is that Russia has not taken any of its major objectives, in fact it is behind its hoped-for timetable,” Wallace told Sky News.
“They have lost over 450 personnel. One of the significant airports they were trying to capture with their elite Spetsnaz [special forces] has failed to be taken. In fact, the Ukrainians have taken it back.
“So, I think contrary to great Russian claims, and indeed President Putin’s sort of vision that somehow the Ukrainians would be liberated and would be flocking to his cause – he’s got that completely wrong. The Russian army has failed to deliver on day one its main objective.”
In a later exchange on BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme, the Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko pleaded with Wallace for the UK and the US to close airspace above Ukraine “in order for these casualties not to escalate”.
However Wallace said this would constitute a direct act of aggression towards Russia, which would prompt a response, and result in “war across Europe” as any attack on the UK would implicate all other Nato members.
Wallace said: “To do a no-fly zone I would have to put British fighter jets against Russian; Nato would have to declare war on Russia.”
He added: “I cannot and won’t trigger a European war but I will help Ukraine fight every street with every piece of equipment we can support them.”
Vasylenko warned that Europe is already at war, since “if Ukraine is allowed to fall others will follow”, and other democratic nations should seek to protect a fellow sovereign country. “What you are witnessing is a restructuring of the defence and security framework we are so used to,” she said.
She said present sanctions were “not enough” and Ukrainians were disappointed by the lack of support. “We are going into over 24 hours of full on war with the biggest military power in Europe and still nothing.”
Wallace said that although Britain wants the Swift global payment system turned off for Russia it is “not in our control” and is being blocked by other member countries. Britain has pushed for Russia to be removed from Swift but has so far failed to win wide support among members of the G7.
He said the UK had supported accelerating Ukraine’s Nato membership, which would have triggered military intervention from fellow members, but that other countries had been concerned by the pace.
He added that other democratic countries have a “moral duty” to continue to arm the Ukrainian forces since it is widely acknowledged that Putin “won’t stop at Ukraine” and will train his sights on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania after, since he “doesn’t believe the Baltic states are countries”.
He told Sky News: “What you’re seeing on your cameras today is illogical. Putin didn’t need to do this, he didn’t need to occupy a sovereign country. None of the reasons why he would do that stack up. He’s not doing something that’s logical, he’s doing something about his ego and his legacy.”
In that interview, he added that Putin and Russian military commanders of all rankings “will be held responsible” for their involvement. “Putin has to fail … because he’s fighting our values and all the human rights that we stand for. I don’t know if he’ll fail in Ukraine, we’ll do everything to make sure he does, but if he doesn’t we’ll make sure he fails after that.”