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Boris Johnson in Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky Alamy Stock Photo
Ukraine talks

Johnson says Russia poses 'clear and present danger' for Ukraine after meeting with President

Senior diplomats from Washington and Moscow also spoke over the phone today, with the US urging Russia to “immediately” de-escalate tensions.

LAST UPDATE | 1 Feb 2022

RUSSIAN FORCES ON the border represent a “clear and present danger” to Ukraine, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

Johnson flew to Kyiv today for talks with Ukraine’s President on the crisis with Russia.

At a press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he said that “we see large numbers of troops massing, we see preparations for all kinds of operations that are consistent with an imminent military campaign”.

“Our view is that time is urgent and this is something that needs to be addressed now.”

Johnson urged Russia to pull back troops and choose diplomacy, warning that any invasion would be a “disaster.”

“It is vital that Russia steps back and chooses a path of diplomacy, and I believe that is still possible,” he said.

Countries have sounded the alarm over the threat posed by more than 100,000 Russian troops deployed along the border with Ukraine, while Ukrainian officials have sought to calm fears of a looming attack.

“A further Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a political disaster, a humanitarian disaster, and, in my view, would also be for Russia, for the world, a military disaster as well,” Johnson said.

“We are also preparing a package of sanctions and other measures to be enacted the moment the first Russian toe cap crosses further into Ukrainian territory.”

Zelensky warned Moscow of a “tragedy” if it invaded, insisting Ukraine’s army had significantly improved its capabilities after nearly eight years of battling Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

“For those who want to capture part of our territory, there are high risks now. Ukrainians will defend themselves to the end. Russians must hear us, they must understand that no-one needs a war,” Zelensky said.

“Now there will be no occupation of any city or territory. There will be a tragedy if the escalation begins, it will not be a war between Ukraine and Russia, it will be a full-scale war in Europe.”

He reiterated his calls for Moscow to de-escalate the tensions by withdrawing its forces stationed along the border.

“This will be a powerful psychologically important step, not only for the people of Ukraine and Europe, but also for the Russians,” he said.


Senior diplomats from Washington and Moscow held fresh talks today on the Ukraine crisis as Western officials say Russia continues to build a massive military force on the ex-Soviet state’s border.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke over the phone with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, a day after the two sides lashed out at each other in a heated discussion on Ukraine at the UN Security Council.

Blinken urged Russia to “immediately” de-escalate tensions and to withdraw its troops from Ukraine’s borders in a call Tuesday with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the State Department said.

Blinken “emphasized that further invasion of Ukraine would be met with swift and severe consequences and urged Russia to pursue a diplomatic path,” the department said in a statement.

A US official said Lavrov gave “no indication” of imminent plans to de-escalate Ukraine tensions.

Ahead of the call late yesterday, Moscow sent a letter to Washington on its views, in response to written communications laying out the two sides’ positions that were exchanged over the past two weeks.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed Moscow’s letter.

“It would be unproductive to negotiate in public, so we’ll leave it up to Russia if they want to discuss their response,” the official said.

“We remain fully committed to dialogue to address these issues and will continue to consult closely with our Allies and partners, including Ukraine.”

Letter exchange 

The call between Lavrov and Blinken comes as Western officials say Russia continues to add to the more than 100,000 troops and a wide range of war-making equipment already in place on Ukraine’s borders, including inside Moscow ally Belarus.

US officials say Moscow is set up to invade Ukraine, though a final decision has not been made by President Vladimir Putin.

US President Joe Biden said Monday that Russia faces “swift and severe consequences” if it does so.

“Today in the United Nations, we laid out the full nature of Russia’s threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, as well as (to the) core tenets of the rule-based international order,” Biden said in the Oval Office.

“We continue to urge diplomacy as the best way forward, but with Russia continuing its build-up of its forces around Ukraine, we are ready no matter what happens.”

The call today was the first time that Lavrov and Blinken spoke directly since the United States and NATO handed over their written responses to Russia’s demands last week.

Both rejected Moscow’s demand for a guarantee that Ukraine will not join the US-led NATO alliance, and rebuffed its insistence that the United States remove its strategic weapons from Europe.

But the US letter, Blinken said last week, also set out to Moscow a “serious diplomatic path” to resolve the confrontation.

While he made clear joining NATO was a choice for Ukraine alone, he said Washington “addressed the possibility of reciprocal transparency measures regarding force posture and Ukraine, as well as measures to increase confidence regarding military exercises and maneuvers in Europe.”

At the UN Security Council meeting yesterday, Russia’s ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said no Russian official had threatened to invade and accused the United States of “whipping up tensions and rhetoric and provoking escalation.”

“The discussions about a threat of war is provocative in and of itself. You are almost calling for this, you want it to happen,” he charged.

Ukraine military

Ukraine plans to add 100,000 personnel to the armed forces over three years and end obligatory service, as tensions soar with Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced the measure today as part of a drive to modernise the 250,000-strong military. He insisted the move did not mean a large-scale invasion by Moscow was imminent amid fears over a massive buildup of Russia troops at Ukraine’s borders.

Ukraine’s armed forces have undergone major improvements since Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula without a fight in 2014 and began fuelling a separatist conflict that has cost more than 13,000 lives.

Zelensky signed a decree to add 100,000 personnel over the next three years, create 20 new brigades, and improve pay and living conditions.

He also ordered the government to draft legislation to end obligatory military service for young men by 2024 as Kyiv looks to professionalise its forces. “The decree is not because there will soon be war. But for us to have peace in the future,” Zelensky said.

Ukraine’s armed forces have been transformed with Western support during the past eight years from a threadbare outfit that relied on volunteer fighters to plug the gaps to a battle-hardened force.

“I want to assure you that today Ukraine has a stronger army than ever,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmygal said at a meeting with his Polish counterpart.

Ukraine’s allies, led by the United States, have scrambled to send more arms to Kyiv in recent weeks as they warn Moscow could be planning a full-scale invasion after massing over 100,000 troops on the boder.

Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov welcomed a sixth plane carrying ammunition from the US today, saying it brought recent deliveries from Washington to about 500 tonnes of materiel.

The influx of fresh arms including anti-tank missiles adds to key firepower acquired by Kyiv such as attack drones brought from Turkey, but despite the improvements and new hardware, the country’s military still remains massively outnumbered and outgunned by Russia’s armed forces.

© AFP 2022

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