Britain is prepared to deploy troops to protect Nato allies in Europe should Russia invade Ukraine, Boris Johnson said, as he warned Vladimir Putin faces “ferocious” Ukrainian resistance.
The Prime Minister also said the UK and its allies stand ready to impose “heavy economic sanctions” on Russia and voiced fears that any invasion would result in “bloodshed comparable to the first war in Chechnya or Bosnia”.
Mr Johnson told the House of Commons: “If Russia pursues this path, many Russian mothers’ sons will not be coming home.
“The response in the international community would be the same and the pain that would be inflicted on the Russian economy will be the same.”
He made an appeal for diplomacy to resolve the tensions and avoid a war that would “earn and would deserve the condemnation of history”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said his party “stands resolute” in supporting Ukraine’s independence and sovereignty.
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss failed to rule out UK combat troops being sent to help defend Ukraine – but told MPs such a scenario is “unlikely”.
Putin’s aggression threatens peace in Europe and runs counter to Labour’s core values of internationalism and the rule of law.— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) January 25, 2022
We must stand firm and united in our support for Ukraine. https://t.co/8WrRp73SnT
Mr Johnson, making a statement to the Commons, went on to say: “The British Army leads the Nato battle group in Estonia and if Russia invades Ukraine, we would look to contribute to any new Nato deployments to protect our allies in Europe.”
He also told MPs the UK could not “bargain away” the vision of a free Europe which emerged between 1989 and 1991, adding: “We will not reopen that divide by agreeing to overturn the European Security Order because Russia has placed a gun to Ukraine’s head, nor can we accept the doctrine implicit in Russian proposals that all states are sovereign, but some are more sovereign than others.
“The draft treaty published by Russia in December would divide our continent once again between free nations and countries whose foreign and defence policies are explicitly constrained by the Kremlin in ways that Russia would never accept for herself.”
He went on: “There is nothing new about large and powerful nations using the threat of brute force to terrify reasonable people into giving way to otherwise completely unacceptable demands.
“But if President Putin was to choose the path of bloodshed and destruction, he must realise that it’d be both tragic and futile, and nor should we allow him to believe that he could easily take some smaller portion of Ukraine – to salami-slice – because the resistance would be ferocious.”
Russian troops have massed at the border with Ukraine and intense diplomatic activity has failed to ease tensions.
Sir Keir said: “For too long the implicit message to Moscow has been that President Putin can do what he likes and the West will do little to respond.
“We must now change course and show Russia that any further aggression will result in severe real-world consequences.”
Tobias Ellwood, Conservative chairman of the Defence Committee, said the threat of sanctions will not deter Russian aggression.
He added: “It is not to late to mobilise a sizeable Nato presence in Ukraine, utilising the superior hard power the alliance possesses to make Putin think twice about invading another European democracy.”
Mr Johnson replied: “I have to tell him that I don’t believe that to be a likely prospect in the near term. Ukraine is not a member of Nato.
“But what we can do, and what we are doing, is sending troops to support Ukraine.”
Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, warned that Defence Secretary Ben Wallace’s support for Ukraine risks being “undermined” if the Government does not tackle “dirty Russian money flowing through our system”.
Labour former minister Chris Bryant added: “The arguments that President Putin uses about Russian speakers in Ukraine are exactly the same as Adolf Hitler advanced over the Sudetenland Germans in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s.”
At the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, the Defence Secretary indicated that Russia already had operatives in place to prepare for an invasion.
“We are becoming aware of a significant number of individuals that are assessed to be associated with Russian military advance force operations that currently are located in Ukraine,” Mr Wallace told MPs.