PM’s warning as Putin recognises Ukraine rebel regions

Johnson slams Putin’s ‘flagrant violation’ of Ukraine’s sovereignty

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In a shock move, the Russian president recognised Ukraine’s eastern pro-Russian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states – prompting fears he will now move tens of thousands of troops into the region to safeguard the territories. The Prime Minister said the UK will seek urgent talks with allies about imposing crippling sanctions.

He added: “This is plainly in breach of international law. This is a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine. It’s a very ill omen and a very dark sign.”

“It’s yet another indication things are heading in the wrong direction.”

After presiding over a meeting with his security council, Mr Putin addressed state television in a hysterical tirade. He claimed Ukraine – with the backing of Western intelligence agencies – wants to develop nuclear weapons. The US and Nato had turned the region into a theatre of war, he said, adding: “Nato admitting Ukraine and putting its weaponry there is a settled question. They’re looking at a sudden strike against Russia. Ukraine’s armed forces may well be commanded directly from Nato HQ. Ukraine says it will develop nuclear weapons. This is not pure bravado. They inherited our USSR technology. They can get nuclear faster than most.”

In the warmongering monologue, the Russian president went on to insist Ukraine has been flooded with Western weapons and Nato instructors assisted military exercises.

Then, highlighting the tensions with the West, he rambled: “OK, you don’t want us to be your friend. But why make us an enemy? There’s only one answer.

“They just don’t want there to be this big, self-sufficient, strong country called Russia.

“That’s where all of American behaviour comes from.”

In his response, Mr Johnson reiterated at last night’s briefing that sanctions would be triggered “with the first toe cap of a Russian incursion or a Russian invasion”.

The Prime Minister added: “Plainly what has happened is extremely bad news and we will be urgently talking to our friends and allies, all of whom are jointly signed up with us in this package of sanctions. It is becoming clear we are going to need to start applying as much pressure as we possibly can. It is hard to see how this situation improves.”

Russia has propped up the pro-Russian separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk with funds and troops since fighting broke out in 2014.

Moscow has always insisted it was not party to the conflict in which more than 14,000 people have been killed.

Shelling in eastern Ukraine has intensified since last week along the frontline between their forces and the rebels.

Pro-Russian separatists started bussing tens of thousands of civilians to Russia on Friday, accusing Kiev of planning an attack.

Ukraine and the West consider the rebels to be Russia’s proxies and have been warning for weeks that Moscow might use them to construct a pretext to invade.

Kiev warned Moscow last night to stop its “fake news factory” after Russia claimed Ukraine crossed the border to stage an attack. Western sources have warned Russia could employ false flag operations.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said: “I refute Russia’s disinformation.

“Ukraine did not attack Donetsk, Luhansk, didn’t send saboteurs or APCs across the border, didn’t shoot Russia’s territory or checkpoint and doesn’t plan such actions. I demand Russia stops its fake news factory.”

Earlier Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned “now is the time” for the West to take a stand against Russia otherwise an invasion would lead to a “humanitarian crisis, instability and widespread suffering”.

He said the Kremlin had a “gun to the head of Ukraine” with 165,000 troops surrounding the country.

Mr Wallace added: “We have seen the Russian playbook that gives us strong cause for concern that President Putin is committed to an invasion. He is in danger of setting himself on a tragic course of events.”

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