Boris Johnson has pledged that the UK and its allies will respond “decisively” to Russia’s attack on Ukraine as he prepared to chair a Cobra emergency meeting on the crisis with further economic sanctions expected to be under consideration.
The prime minister also condemned Vladimir Putin, saying Russia’s president had “chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction”.
It came as Ukraine’s president declared martial law, while Russia’s military said it had targeted Ukrainian airbases and other military assets and had not targeted populated areas.
A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson will chair a Cobra committee meeting at 7.30am to discuss the response to the “horrific attacks”.
Britain, in common with other Nato allies, has said it would not fight Russia, because Ukraine is not a Nato member. But the UK has supplied arms to Kyiv and is has already announce limited economic sanctions.
In a statement posted on Twitter at 4.53am, Johnson said he had spoken with the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to discuss “next steps”.
He said: “I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskiy to discuss next steps. President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The UK and our allies will respond decisively.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson had assured Zelenskiy the west “would not stand by as President Putin waged his campaign against the Ukrainian people”.
“The prime minister said he hoped Ukraine could resist and that Ukraine and its people were in the thoughts of everyone in the United Kingdom people during this dark time,” the spokesperson said.
Britain, in common with other Nato allies, has said it would not fight Russia, because Ukraine is not a Nato member. But the UK has supplied arms to Kyiv and is expected to announce further economic sanctions.
Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine urged UK nationals to leave Ukraine immediately.
Melinda Simmons wrote on Twitter: “We advise GB nationals to leave Ukraine immediately if you judge that it is safe to do so from your location. Please call +380 44 490 3660 if you need assistance.”
Putin announced the action during a televised address early on Thursday morning, saying the move was a response to threats from Ukraine.
He said Russia does not have a goal to occupy Ukraine, but the responsibility for bloodshed lies with the Ukrainian “regime”.
He also warned other countries that any attempt to interfere with the Russian action would lead to “consequences they have never seen”.
Putin accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining Nato and offer Moscow security guarantees.
He said the Russian military operation aims to ensure a “demilitarisation” of Ukraine, adding that all Ukrainian servicemen who lay down arms will be able to safely leave the zone of combat.
The UK’s defence secretary, Ben Wallace, described Russia’s actions as “naked aggression against a democratic country” and said no one had been fooled by the Kremlin’s “false flags and fake narratives”.
“The Russian Federation has today further violated Ukrainian sovereignty,” he said.
“Despite the efforts of the international communities, Russia has chosen conflict. No one has been fooled by the Kremlin’s false flags and fake narratives.
“This is naked aggression against a democratic country which had dared to express a different aspiration than being a supine neighbour to Russia. No one should forget this day. Putin thinks this land grab is about securing his legacy – it will be, but not the one that he wishes.”