Russia will face tougher sanctions than “anything we have done before”, Boris Johnson has warned, as he committed British troops to any future NATO response to an invasion of Ukraine.
With tensions between the West and the Kremlin escalating over the build up of Russian troops on Ukraine’s eastern border, the Prime Minister on Tuesday told MPs that any attack on Ukraine “would be followed by tougher sanctions against Russia, further steps to help Ukraine defend herself, and by an increased NATO presence to protect our allies on NATOs eastern flank”.
He added: “The British Army leads the NATO Battlegroup in Estonia and if Russia invades Ukraine, we would look to contribute to any new NATO deployments to protect our allies in Europe.”
The UK already provides training support to Ukrainian military forces and has supplied anti tank weapons to the country, which is not a member of NATO.
Speaking earlier in the Commons, the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss failed to rule out UK combat troops being sent to help defend Ukraine - but said such a scenario is "unlikely".
Mr Johnson’s update to MPs came as the Prime Minister faces a growing storm over allegations of lockdown busting parties in Downing Street and across Whitehall, some of which are now subject to a Metropolitan Police investigation.
After briefly addressing the Met’s announcement by saying he welcomed the investigation, Mr Johnson tried to focus attention on the escalating crisis in Ukraine.
On Monday night, he held virtual talks with US President Joe Biden, the head of NATO and other European leaders.
He told MPs that following the meeting: “We agreed that we would respond in unison to any Russian attack on Ukraine, in unison, by imposing coordinated and severe sanctions, heavier than anything we have done before against Russia.
“And we agreed on the necessity of finalising these measures as swiftly as possible, in order to maximise their deterrent effect.”
Sir Alex Younger, who ran the UK’s Secret Intelligence Service from 2014 to 2020, said that he “cannot see a scenario where he [Mr Putin] can back down in a way that satisfies the expectations he has created”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “We shouldn’t underestimate how serious he [Mr Putin] is. A sovereign, independent Ukraine is a direct affront to his ambitions as he sees them to restore Russia as a great power. Given the maximal nature of his demands, given he has rejected the only reasonable compromise, it’s hard for me to see how he can avoid having to follow through to some extent and at that point you unleash the law of unintended consequences, so it does worry me.”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Tuesday reiterated Mr Johnson’s warning that an invasion of Ukraine would not be “cost free”.
Mr Shapps told Sky News: “The Prime Minister met with Biden and several European leaders last night and made it very, very clear to President Putin that there will be severe consequences if he crosses that border.
“An economic response will be very strong, but Britain has also sent defence weapons and training to the Ukrainians in order to assist with protecting the country.” Following last night’s talks, Mr Biden said there was “total unanimity” among European leaders over tackling Russia’s troop build-up.
An estimated 100,000 Russian troops have massed at the border with Ukraine. Russia has denied it is planning to invade.
The Pentagon on Monday put 8,500 US troops on heightened alert, preparing them for a possible deployment to reassure Nato allies amid the rising tensions.