Prime minister Boris Johnson today promised the west will not allow democracy to be “snuffed out” after Russian president Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine by “land, sea and air”.
“Our worst fears have now come true and all our warnings have proved tragically accurate,” he said in a TV address.
“President Putin has unleashed war in our European continent. He has attacked a friendly country without any provocation and without any credible excuse. Missiles and bombs have been raining down on an entirely innocent population.
“A vast invasion is under way by land, by sea and by air. And this is not in the infamous phrase, some far away country of which we know little. We have Ukrainian friends in this country, neighbours, co-workers. Ukraine is a country which has for decades has enjoyed freedom and democracy.”
Johnson said the west would now agree a “massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy”.
“And to that end we must also collectively cease the dependence on Russian oil and gas that for too long has given Putin his grip on western politics. Our mission is clear, diplomatically, politically, economically – and eventually, militarily – this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.”
Addressing the Ukrainian people, Johnson said the UK was “on your side”, adding: “If the months ahead are grim, and the flame of freedom burns low, I know that it will blaze bright again in Ukraine.
“Because for all his bombs and tanks and missiles I don't believe that the Russian dictator will ever subdue the national feeling of the Ukrainians and their passionate belief that their country should be free.
“And I say to the British people and all who have heard the threats from Putin against those who stand with Ukraine we will of course do everything to keep our country safe.”
Johnson held a meeting of the government's emergency Cobra committee this morning following what he described as the “horrific attacks” against Ukraine.
Russian forces have advanced quickly across the country, with Ukranian officials confirming Putin's troops had already breached the Kyiv region.
Lithuania, which is a Nato member and shares a border with Ukraine, has already declared a state of emergency and announced plans to send troops to defend its border.
Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg also announced the alliance had for the first time activated its defence plans for eastern Europe as he warned the “deliberate, cold-blooded and long-planned invasion” was a “grave moment for the security of Europe”.
He added: “We now have war in Europe on a scale and type we thought belonged to history.”
Earlier this week the UK announced sanctions against five Russian banks and three “high-net worth” individuals with close links to the Kremlin. The government has promised “decisive” further action in the event of Russian escalation.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss said she had summoned the Russian ambassador to the UK to “explain Russia's illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine”.
“We will be imposing severe sanctions and rallying countries in support of Ukraine,” she said.
In a TV address this morning, Putin issued a warning to the west where he cautioned foreign leaders not to “interfere”.
“If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history,” he said.
“All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.”
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has also ordered British airlines to avoid Ukrainian airspace following the increased fighting.
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said “really weak” sanctions had “encouraged” further Russian aggression because they “made clear that we weren't willing to do anything serious”.
Tugendhat added: “We need to make sure they are harshly and severely applied. We need to make sure they also apply to manufactured goods, ever Russian civilian aircraft ... uses Rolls Royce or General Electric engines, they shouldn't be able to be resupplying parts.
“We need to make sure that Russians who drive BMWs or Peugeots can't get spare parts for their vehicles. We need to make sure this is [seen as] what it is, which is a reflection of an act of war of a militarised state and the first invasion of a European country since 1939.”
John Johnston is a political reporter at CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared