The UK could soon be at war with Russia with British soldiers, sailors and pilots fighting Putin’s forces on a new front in eastern Europe, a former British general warned today.
General Sir Richard Shirreff, ex-deputy supreme commander of Nato, has said Britain’s first line of defence is now the border of former Soviet states who fear they could be next after the invasion of Ukraine.
He said: ‘There is a possibility that we as a nation will soon be at war with Russia. We in this country must recognise that our security starts not in the white cliffs of Dover – it starts in the forests of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.’
Sir Richard has said today’s invasion must change Boris Johnson’s ‘mindset’ – warning that he believes Putin is bent on restoring the USSR, which was split into 15 republics when it imploded in 1991.
Speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, he was asked by Nick Robinson if Britons and their ‘children and grandchildren’ may be ‘expected to fight’ the Russians, and Sir Richard replied: ‘Absolutely. If Russia puts one bootstep into Nato territory, we are all at war with Russia.
‘Article 5 (of the Nato alliance) says an attack on one is an attack on all, so we need to change our mindset fundamentally, and that is why I say our defence starts in the UK on the frontiers of Nato.’
He added: ‘It is very possible he might move into Nato countries and lead to war with thirty countries’. But he warned that Britain or Nato cannot deploy in Ukraine ‘because that will precipitate a third world war’.
He went on: ‘We need to look at our own security. We must really man the ramparts in eastern Europe as an alliance.
‘We should mobilise the forces, such as we’ve got, as I’m afraid the cupboard is pretty bare after a decade-plus of cuts. Our government must be examining carefully what needs to be done to reinforce the East and send the most powerful signal that Nato is ready and willing to defend its territory’.
General Sir Richard Shirreff, ex-deputy supreme commander of Nato pictured with David Cameron in Iraq, has said Britain’s first line of defence is now the border of former Soviet states who fear they could be Putin’s next target such as Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia
Explosion lights up the night sky over Kiev in the early hours of this morning as the invasion of Ukraine by Russia began
Russia has invaded Ukraine from the north, south and east while firing in missiles all over the country
Sir Richard said that Putin will look to occupy Ukraine – and potentially look to other countries in the region.
Putin’s chilling warning to the West: ‘To anyone who would consider interfering from the outside – if you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history’
Russian Su-25 jets fly over Dnipro
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on Ukraine and gave a chilling warning to its allies in the West in an early Thursday morning address in Moscow.
Explosions were heard in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as Putin announced that Russia was launching a military attack on Ukraine.
He has ignored the plea, going on TV to describe the invasion as a ‘special military occupation’ and said he wants to ‘demilitarize’ and ‘de-Nazify’, not occupy, the country.
He told Ukrainian service members to ‘lay down their arms and go home,’ saying Russia could not exist with a ‘constant threat emanating from the territory of Ukraine’ and clashes between Russian and Ukrainian solders was ‘inevitable.’
‘The people’s republics of Donbass turned to Russia with a request for help … I decided to conduct a special military operation,’ he said.
‘As for the military sphere, modern Russia, even after the collapse of the USSR and the loss of a significant part of its nuclear potential, is today one of the most powerful nuclear powers. And moreover, it has certain advantages in a number of the latest types of weapons. In this regard, no one should have any doubt that a direct attack on Russia will lead to defeat and dire consequences for a potential aggressor’.
He said: ‘The Russians don’t hang around. They’ll look to establish overwhelming force so we have to assume the worst. There will be multiple attacks from different axes. This is a full blown military offensive to occupy Ukraine.
‘There is no surprise and there is profound sadness and a sense of appalling horror at what is about to unfold for the people of Ukraine,’ he said.
‘And I think we have to assume that this is not Russia biting off a chunk of Ukraine – for example, establishing a land corridor in Crimea’.
The retired general said that Putin ‘absolutely’ wants to restore the Soviet Union.
He said: ‘You only have to listen to what Putin has been saying since 2014. The most appropriate security settlement for Europe is a new Yalta. He sees Russia dominating eastern Europe as the Soviet Union did in communist time. This has been on the cards for some time – but the people who should have been listening have been ignoring it’.
Boris Johnson today warned that Vladimir Putin has ‘chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction’ in Ukraine as the West pushes for ‘unprecedented’ sanctions – and ministers suggested Moscow generals should mount a coup to stop the president’s ‘Tsarist fantasy’.
The PM chaired a COBRA meeting at 7.30am after the dramatic invasion overnight, and is pledging a ‘decisive’ response. He is expected to unveil more sanctions in a Commons statement later – with Russia’s access to the financial markets and oligarchs in the crosshairs.
EU ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss more action after blacklisting 23 individuals the bloc say are involved in military aggression against Ukraine, taking key political decisions, or waging a ‘disinformation war’. US president Joe Biden is also expected to announce more steps, after banning trade and investment in ‘separatist’ regions of Ukraine and cutting off Russian state banks.
In an extraordinary intervention this morning, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly suggested that Russian military commanders should step in to stop Mr Putin’s ‘catastrophically bad judgement call’.
Hinting at problems with Mr Putin’s mental state after a series of rambling speeches littered with Soviet-era rhetoric, he said the president seemed to be acting ‘increasingly in isolation’ and ‘illogically’.
Nato called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ‘a grave violation of international law’ as war broke out in Europe sparking the greatest threat to security and peace since the Second World War.
In a statement on Twitter, Mr Johnson – who is expected to make a statement to the Commons later – said: ‘I am appalled by the horrific events in Ukraine and I have spoken to President Zelenskyy to discuss next steps. President Putin has chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction by launching this unprovoked attack on Ukraine. The UK and our allies will respond decisively.’
Labour leader Keir Starmer piled pressure on the PM to ramp up sanctions on Russia, its businesses and its citizens.
‘The hardest possible sanctions must be taken against all those linked to Putin. The influence of Russian money must be extricated from the U.K. Those who have for too long turned a blind eye to Russia’s actions must reckon with their own consciences.’
However, experts believe Mr Putin will have priced in the damage from sanctions when making his decision to defy the international community.
It came after Russia launched what appears to be a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, sending troops, tanks and artillery into five areas of the country despite the Kremlin claiming it was a ‘special military operation’ in only the eastern Donbas region.
Addressing the nation from the Kremlin this morning, Mr Putin said his plans ‘don’t include occupation of Ukrainian territory’, insisting he was only trying ‘to demilitarise’ and ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine, and ‘protect Donbas’, adding: ‘We are not going to impose anything on anyone by force’.
In a chilling threat to anyone in the West who may want to help the Ukrainian militarily, he said: ‘To anyone who would consider interfering from outside: If you do, you will face consequences greater than any you have faced in history. All the relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me’.
As Britain responds to war in Europe:
- Boris Johnson will set out a suite of super-sanctions to damage the Russian economy, its businesses and its oligarchs;
- A former British military commander has warned it is ‘possible’ Nato ends up at war with Russia, due to the potential for escalation and the Article 5 commitment that an attack on any member is regarded as an attack on all. Ukraine is not a full member;
- Britain’s ambassador to Ukraine urged UK nationals to leave Ukraine immediately. Melinda Simmons wrote on Twitter: ‘We advise GB nationals to leave Ukraine immediately if you judge that it is safe to do so from your location. Please call +380 44 490 3660 if you need assistance.’ The UK Foreign Office has said people should not attempt to cross from Russia into Ukraine;
- Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said he has instructed the UK Civil Aviation Authority to ensure airlines avoid Ukraine airspace ‘to keep passengers and crew safe’. Wizz Air was due to operate flights to Luton from Kiev and Lviv on Thursday, but they were both cancelled;
Boris Johnson today declared that Putin has ‘chosen a path of bloodshed and destruction’ in Ukraine after launching a ‘horrific attacks’ on its neighbour
Smoke can be seen after an airstrike by Russian in Ivano Frankivsk, Ukraine, while tank columns entered Ukraine from Belarus this morning
The port of Ochakiv on the Black Sea this morning is on fire this morning
Boris Johnson said he was ‘appalled’ by the ‘unprovoked attack’ on a sovereign democratic European nation
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and aide Tim Barrow, arrive in Downing Street, London, for a COBRA meeting called by the Prime Minister
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps arrives in Downing Street having instructed the Civil Aviation Authority to ensure airlines avoid Ukraine airspace ‘following the horrific events overnight’
Boris Johnson spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the early hours of this morning, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
The No 10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister said he was appalled by the unfolding events in Ukraine. The Ukrainian President updated the Prime Minister on the attacks taking place, and the Prime Minister said the West would not stand by as President Putin waged his campaign against the Ukrainian people.
‘The Prime Minister said he hoped Ukraine could resist and that Ukraine and its people were in the thoughts of everyone in the United Kingdom people during this dark time.’
While Foreign Secretary Liz Truss ‘strongly condemned’ what she called an ‘appalling, unprovoked attack’ on Ukraine, vowing to ‘respond to this terrible act of aggression’.
Foreign Office minister James Cleverly accused Vladimir Putin of trying to play out a ‘fantasy’ of ‘recreating some kind of tsarist expansionist Russia’.
He told Sky News: ‘Sadly, President Putin has been really clear in what he’s trying to achieve. He is trying to recreate a Russian Empire in his mind, claim back places which he defines as Russia. But the international community recognises that these are individual sovereign states.
‘Ukraine is not part of Russia and the fantasy that Vladimir Putin is trying to play out in recreating some kind of czarist expansionist Russia absolutely has to be stopped.
‘We will continue working. We’ve been providing financial and military support to Ukraine for a number of years.
‘Just yesterday, the Foreign Secretary announced an economic support package. There will, of course, be more support and we will be bringing forward, as I say, in close concert with our international friends and allies, an unprecedented sanctions response, co-ordinated sanctions response, to punish this appalling decision.’
‘No one should forget this day,’ Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, added – saying that Putin is trying to ‘secure his legacy’ with an act of ‘naked aggression’. ‘It will, but not the [legacy] that he wishes.’
Mr Wallace described Russia’s actions as ‘naked aggression against a democratic country’ and said no one had been fooled by the Kremlin’s ‘false flags and fake narratives’.
‘The Russian Federation has today further violated Ukrainian Sovereignty,’ he said.
‘Despite the efforts of the international communities, Russia has chosen conflict. No one has been fooled by the Kremlin’s false flags and fake narratives.
‘This is naked aggression against a democratic country which had dared to express a different aspiration than being a supine neighbour to Russia.
‘No one should forget this day. Putin thinks this land grab is about securing his legacy – it will be, but not the one that he wishes.’
The invasion came hours after Britain’s Defence Secretary said Vladimir Putin had gone ‘full tonto’ over the Ukraine crisis yesterday, as a former Nato chief suggested the Russian president may have ‘gone crazy’.
In an extraordinary broadside, Ben Wallace mocked the Kremlin chief’s judgment and warned that his former regiment could ‘kick the backside’ of Russian troops if required.
The Defence Secretary served as an officer in the Scots Guards before his political career and was decorated for gallantry in Northern Ireland in 1992.
Tonto is Spanish for stupid and ‘going full tonto’ is popular slang for taking stupidity to a higher level.
Speaking to British troops yesterday, Mr Wallace said: ‘It is going to be a busy [British] Army. Unfortunately we’ve got a busy adversary in Putin who has gone full tonto. He is in an illogical and irrational frame of mind. The Scots Guards kicked the backside of Tsar Nicholas I in 1853 in Crimea – we can always do it again. Tsar Nicholas I made the same mistake Putin did… he had no friends, no alliances.’
Mr Wallace’s remarks were echoed last night by former Nato Secretary General Anders Rasmussen. In an interview with ITV’s Robert Peston, he said the Kremlin chief may have ‘gone crazy’ and had seemed ‘unhinged’ in recent television appearances. Mr Rasmussen said: ‘Russian behaviour right now, it’s not rational, so I wouldn’t exclude the possibility Putin has gone crazy. And we saw how he humiliated his advisers. So I don’t think we are confronted with a man who is thinking along rational lines.
‘We should hit him hard economically, much harder than we have done already. Russia should be cut off from Western money. We should also reduce our dependence on imported Russian gas and we should step up our delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine.’
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said she condemns Russia´s `appalling, unprovoked attack´ on Ukraine, which has already caused injuries and deaths as missiles hit the country
Ms Truss has insisted ‘nothing is off the table’ if Russia attacks, which it did today
The choked roads of Kiev as people try to head west away from the capital amid fears Russia may try to take the capital
Mr Wallace made his comments in a room at the Horse Guards building in London which is dominated by a painting of the Battle of Inkerman, a major engagement during the Crimean War, which saw British troops fight alongside French soldiers to defeat Russia.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Wednesday suggested Tory donors could potentially be hit with sanctions if they have links to Mr Putin’s regime.
She said she was ruling nothing out ‘in terms of who we target’ over the Ukraine crisis, as she faced calls for her party to hand back donated cash with Russian connections reportedly worth nearly £2 million.
She added in an earlier piece for The Times that Britain will ‘use every lever at our disposal to stop (Putin) in his tracks’.
Ms Truss said: ‘Nothing is off the table.’
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine is unprovoked and unjustifiable. His actions will have horrendous and tragic consequences that will echo throughout the world and throughout history.
‘All those who believe in the triumph of democracy over dictatorship, good over evil, freedom over the jackboot of tyranny must now support the Ukrainian people. They have been cast onto the front line of a war, simply for existing.
‘There can be no space for equivocation when faced with the evil that Putin has unleashed. His actions pose a grave threat to the international order on which we all depend.
‘There will be dark days ahead. But Putin will learn the same lesson as Europe’s tyrants of the last century: that the resolve of the world is harder than he imagines and the desire for liberty burns stronger than ever. The light will prevail.
‘I know people in this country will be feeling worried and uncertain. I know that Ukrainians and Russians here in the UK will be worrying for friends and family back home. Our hearts are with them today.
‘We must now match our rhetoric with action. We must urgently reinforce our Nato allies. The hardest possible sanctions must be taken against all those linked to Putin. The influence of Russian money must be extricated from the UK. And those who have for too long turned a blind eye to Russia’s actions must reckon with their own consciences.’