Johnson warns of painful and violent Ukraine ‘lightning war’

A Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “painful, violent and bloody business”, Boris Johnson has warned as he said a “lightning war” was possible but not inevitable.

The prime minister said it would be “disastrous” if Vladimir Putin directed thousands of soldiers to cross into Ukraine seeking to take further parts of the country after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Russia has mobilised 100,000 troops and heavy weapons on the Ukrainian border. Tensions escalated further when Nato reinforced its eastern borders with land, sea and air forces, while the White House and Downing Street announced some diplomats’ were starting to be withdrawn from the country.

Johnson said he would be talking to political leaders “in other capitals and in Washington” on Monday evening.

Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to a hospital, Johnson was asked about the prospect of an imminent invasion by Russian troops. “I think the intelligence is pretty gloomy on this point,” he said.

“The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the border of Ukraine. The plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see. We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin that that would be a disastrous step.”

Johnson stressed he thought an invasion was not inevitable and that “sense can still prevail”, but he said the UK was working with other countries to draw up a package of economic sanctions against Russia.

He also said that if Moscow sent troops in, it would be a “painful, violent and bloody business – and I think it’s very important that people in Russia understand that this could be a new Chechnya.”

If forced, Johnson said he believed the Ukrainians would fight, and he said the Kremlin should understand that.

He added: “The UK is in the lead in creating that package of economic sanctions, helping to stiffen the resistance of our Ukrainian friends with defensive weaponry that we’re supplying and making it clear that we stand fully foursquare with the people of Ukraine.”

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, earlier condemned Nato’s buildup of soldiers, saying the military alliance was “demonising Russia” in order to “justify military activity on [Nato’s] eastern flank”.

“The language of Nato is the language of threats and military pressure,” he said in remarks published by Russian media. “This is nothing new.”

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