Ukraine conflict: UK target Putin’s ‘private army’ with new sanctions amid plea to allies
Boris Johnson hit the paramilitary Wagner Group – seen as Vladimir Putin’s private army – in a raft of new sanctions as he urged allies to “step up” support against the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Prime Minister is using a Nato emergency summit in Brussels on Thursday to commit to a new package, including 6,000 more missiles for Ukraine and pressing to prevent the Russian president using his gold reserves.
Mr Johnson will be joined by world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for worldwide demonstrations to mark a month since Russia launched its attack.
Mr Zelensky will remotely address the meeting, which is expected to sign off on the formation of four new battlegroups in eastern Europe, adding thousands more troops.
Speaking to broadcasters after landing in Belgium’s capital, Mr Johnson said: “Vladimir Putin is plainly determined to double down on his path of violence and aggression.”
Describing Mr Putin’s treatment of Ukrainians as “absolutely brutal”, he added: “We’ve got to step up. We’ve got to increase our support.
“We’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today, as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group, looking at what we can do to stop Putin using his gold reserves, and also doing more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.”
The Foreign Office said it was sanctioning 65 more entities and individuals, including Russian billionaire Eugene Shvidler and Galina Danilchenko, who was installed by Moscow as the mayor of occupied Melitopol in south-east Ukraine.
The Wagner Group plans to assassinate Mr Zelensky as his forces continue to put up a far stronger resistance than many anticipated, it has been warned.
Western officials had expected to be supporting a Ukrainian insurgency at this point in the war, rather than the nation’s army, which is holding up.
Mr Johnson said: “We’re moving, really, from a programme of supporting resistance to supporting the Ukrainian defence of their own country.”
Praising him as “one of the most extraordinary war leaders of recent times”, Mr Johnson said Mr Zelensky wants tighter sanctions on Mr Putin’s regime and “very specific defensive military support” for his armed forces.
“And that, we’re determined to provide,” Mr Johnson said.
He also hit out at Moscow’s bid to host Euro 2028, saying Russia should withdraw its forces and the football tournament should be handed to Ukraine.
“The idea of Russia holding any kind of football tournament or any kind of cultural event right now is beyond satire,” he said.
“The best thing possible would be for the entire Russian armed forces to retire forthwith from Ukraine and to hand it to them, of course.”
However, those remarks came just a day after the UK and Ireland football associations submitted their joint formal interest in staging the tournament.
Six more banks were among those being sanctioned with asset freezes and travel bans, as was one of the world’s largest diamond producer Alrosa, and Polina Kovaleva, the stepdaughter of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who was travelling with Mr Johnson, said: “These oligarchs, businesses and hired thugs are complicit in the murder of innocent civilians and it is right that they pay the price.
“Putin should be under no illusions – we are united with our allies and will keep tightening the screw on the Russian economy to help ensure he fails in Ukraine. There will be no let-up”.
Ahead of the summit getting under way, Russian hoaxers, suspected of working for the Kremlin, released a full version of their video call with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.
The MoD has warned the footage being trickled out, in which Mr Wallace thought he was talking to Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal, is doctored and propaganda.
Speaking to the imposter, Mr Wallace says: “I’ve just been looking at our new anti-air missiles that we’re sending you, which is better than Stinger, it’ll work at night, it’s a very, very fast missile and it will help close the skys to Russian aircraft.”
Nato has refused Ukrainian demands for a no-fly zone to be imposed over the nation out of fears it would drag the West into a direct conflict with Russia.
The hoaxers warned that a “prank” call with Home Secretary Priti Patel will follow “soon”.
Mr Biden’s attendance at the summit, the US administration announced it had formally assessed that Russian forces had committed war crimes in Ukraine.
Secretary of state Antony Blinken cited the besieged city of Mariupol where an estimated 100,000 people remain trapped with chronic shortages of food and clean drinking water.
In a call with Mr Zelensky on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said the bombardment of civilian areas in the city was “unconscionable” and demanded a response from the international community.
Britain has already sent more than 4,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, including next-generation light anti-tank weapons systems (Nlaws) and Javelin missiles.
It is also supplying and training Ukrainian troops in the use of Starstreak high-velocity anti-air missiles as well as providing body armour, helmets and combat boots.
The Government will provide an additional £4.1 million to the BBC World Service to counter disinformation in Russia and Ukraine as well as new support for the International Criminal Court (ICC).