Johnson still hopes to speak to Putin over Ukraine crisis, says No 10

Boris Johnson still hopes to speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to defuse the Ukraine crisis, Downing Street has said.

Labor claimed the Prime Minister’s diplomatic initiative was in “disarray” amid claims a planned call had been canceled while Mr Johnson concentrated on the fallout from Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street parties.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said there had been no “settled time” for the call and that they were still hoping to arrange a time with the Kremlin for the two men to speak.

However shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the reports showed there were “real world consequences” of having a prime minister fighting for his political survival.

“Amid a dangerous crisis threatening peace in Europe, a vital diplomatic opportunity has been missed as Boris Johnson scrambles to hold on to his job,” he said.

“These are the real world consequences of a distracted Prime Minister unfit for office running a government in disarray.”

Mr Johnson had been due to speak to Mr Putin before flying to Kyiv on Tuesday in a show of support for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin (Matt Cardy / PA)

But he spent much of the day preparing for and delivering a Commons statement on Ms Gray’s pared report on lockdown parties in No 10 and Whitehall.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was not unusual for the timing of calls between world leaders to change.

“You will appreciate the control of the timing for the receipt of this report rightly (was) with Sue Gray and her team, and the Prime Minister had committed to come to the House to make an update,” the spokesman told reporters at Westminster.

Earlier, during a visit to Tilbury docks in Essex, Mr Johnson said he intended to urge Mr Putin to “step back from the brink” and not mount an invasion of his neighbor.

“I think Russia needs to step back from the brink,” he said.

“I think that an invasion of Ukraine, any incursion into Ukraine beyond the territory that Russia has already taken in 2014, would be an absolute disaster for the world, and above all it would be a disaster for Russia.”

Mr Johnson said that any Russian invasion would be “bitterly and bloodily resisted” by the Ukrainian people.

Liz Truss
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has announced plans for tough new sanctions against Moscow (Aaron Chown / PA)

In the Commons, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced plans for legislation with new powers to sanction individuals and businesses linked to the Russian state.

“We will be able to target any company that is linked to the Russian state, engages in business of economic significance to the Russian state or operates in a sector of strategic significance to the Russian state,” she told MPs.

“This will be the toughest sanction regime against Russia we have ever had and it is the most radical departure in approach since leaving the EU. Those in and around the Kremlin will have nowhere to hide. ”

The UK is expected to bolster military presence in eastern Europe as part of NATO’s efforts to secure the region.

But British and NATO combat forces are not expected to be deployed in Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance.

Around 100 British personnel are involved in a training mission in the country.

Mr Johnson said: “We have been there since 2014, training Ukrainian troops under Operation Orbital – about 21,000 we have trained.

“We give lethal but defensive weaponry to Ukraine.”

Russia has more than 100,000 troops massed on the border fueling Western fears that Moscow is preparing an invasion of its southern neighbor.

Mr Putin has denied he is planning an attack but is demanding guarantees Ukraine will never join NATO, while calling on the Western alliance to draw back its forces in eastern Europe.

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