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Putin is holding a gun to Ukraine's head, UK's Johnson says

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By Reuters
UK's Johnson: Russia sanctions will kick in immediately if it invades Ukraine
UK's Johnson: Russia sanctions will kick in immediately if it invades Ukraine   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2022

KYIV -Russian President Vladimir Putin is holding a gun to Ukraine’s head in a bid to bully the West into redrawing the post-Cold War security map of Europe, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday.

The United States, European Union and Britain have repeatedly warned Putin against attacking Ukraine since Russia deployed around 100,000 troops near the border with its former Soviet neighbour.

Russian officials say the West is gripped by Russophobia and has no right to lecture Moscow after U.S.-led invasions in the Middle East sowed chaos in Iraq and Syria and the NATO military alliance admitted former Eastern Bloc republics.

Johnson used a trip to Ukraine to call on the West to unite against what he said was Putin’s bid to impose a “new Yalta” – a reference to the 1945 conference when Europe was carved up by World War Two victors the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain.

He said Putin was jeopardizing the post-Cold War order by carving out spheres of influence that would again divide Europe, rolling back the freedoms gained since the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.

“He is trying, by holding a gun as it were to the head of Ukraine, by intimidating Ukraine, to get us to change the way we look at something that was absolutely fantastic,” Johnson said in Kyiv.

“When I was a young man, the Berlin Wall came down. We had the doctrine of a Europe whole and free: any country could choose its independent sovereign destiny in the whole of the European landmass – that was a fantastic thing.”

After having to cancel a call with Putin on Monday due to an outpouring of anger over boozy parties at the heart of the British government while the country was in a COVID-19 lockdown, Johnson said he would speak to the Kremlin chief on Wednesday.

Moscow denies it is poised to invade Ukraine.

Johnson appealed to Russian mothers, saying any invasion of Ukraine would lead to a “very fierce and bloody resistance” against an occupying Russian army.

“There are 200,000 men and women under arms in Ukraine, they will put up a very, very fierce and bloody resistance,” Johnson said alongside Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Parents, mothers in Russia, should reflect on that fact and I hope very much that President Putin steps back from the path of conflict and that we engage in dialogue.”

Western critics cast Russia as a dictatorial kleptocracy governed by a mercurial elite that has involved itself in irresponsible escapades such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, attempts to meddle in U.S. and European elections, and a series of high-profile espionage and assassination attempts abroad.

Johnson brushed aside suggestions that Britain and the United States might be exaggerating the Russian threat, warning that London would slap sanctions on Russian strategic commercial interests and individuals the moment Ukraine was invaded again.

“We’re bringing forward the new legislation (that) will enable us to pinpoint…strategic commercial interests of Russia in a very direct way, as well as individual Russian commercial interests,” he said, alluding to Russian oligarchs with huge assets parked abroad, including in Britain.

Putin on Tuesday said the West had ignored Moscow’s key concerns when it formally responded last week to Russian demands for legally binding security guarantees.

“It’s already clear now…that fundamental Russian concerns were ignored,” Putin said. He also said he hoped dialogue on Ukraine would continue to avoid “negative scenarios” including war.