Ukraine’s President, Volodoymr Zelensky, has said that Ukrainians “will stand until the very end”, following his meeting with “friend and partner” Boris Johnson at the turquoise baroque presidential palace in Kiev today.
As 100,000 Russian troops remain massed on Ukraine’s border, Zelensky warned that tensions between Kiev and Moscow will not just result in a war between Ukraine and Russia. “This is going to be a European war, a fully-fledged war,” he said.
Following the meeting, Johnson announced that the UK will impose sanctions “the moment the first Russian toecap crossed further into Ukrainian territory” and he vowed to work with Zelensky to find a diplomatic solution to tensions with Moscow, which was holding “a gun to Ukraine’s head”.
Johnson has offered £88m in aid to tackle corruption and promote stable governance in Ukraine, as well as to enable greater energy independence from Russia.
As for tougher sanctions, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who planned to accompany the PM on the trip before contracting Covid, says legislation is being prepared to target a wide range of individuals and businesses associated with Vladimir Putin.
Zelensky has praised Western backing in the face of Russia’s hostility, insisting today that “support for Ukraine is the biggest since 2014.”
According to Zelensky, Ukraine has formed a new “format of political co-operation”, spanning security, trade, investment and energy, with the UK and Poland – both countries which are part of NATO’s mutual defensive alliance.
Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has promised Zelensky defensive weaponry and humanitarian aid which could also help to prevent an influx of Ukrainian refugees if Russia attacks.
Despite these gestures of support from Western allies, no NATO member has offered to send military troops to Kiev in the event of a Russian invasion. And, while Zelensky has announced plans to increase the size of the Ukrainian army by 100,000 active soldiers, his country is still vastly outnumbered by the Russian army. Moscow has roughly 2.9 million troops and over 12,000 tanks compared to a 1.1 million troops and 2,500 tanks in Kiev.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield has described Russia’s mobilisation on the border as the biggest Europe has seen in decades.
Today won’t be an easy day of talks for Johnson – and he will likely come under pressure to offer Ukraine even more extensive support.
Yet the PM’s trip to Kiev will serve as a welcome distraction from problems closer to home. Johnson’s fight to save his premiership is ongoing after a redacted version of Sue Gray’s report into the partygate scandal was finally released yesterday.
While the report was, in the Gray’s words, “extremely limited” by the ongoing police investigation, it still offered the damming conclusion that rule-breaking at the top of government did indeed occur when the country was in the midst of lockdown.
The findings were enough for a ninth Conservative MP to publicly call for Boris Johnson to quit today. Peter Aldous, the MP for Waveney since 2010, announced that, “after a great deal of soul-searching,” he has “reached the conclusion that the prime minister should resign”.
Aldous has now written to the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, advising him that he has “no confidence in the prime minister as leader of the Conservative Party.”
As more and more Tory MPs denounce Johnson at home, a trip to defuse war in Europe must feel like a holiday.
The single biggest day of industrial action in over a decade took place in Britain on Wednesday.