Boris vows ‘unwavering support’ with £100m in arms for Ukraine

Boris Johnson meets with Ukraine's Zelensky in Kyiv

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The Prime Minister met Volodymyr Zelensky in his defiant capital, pledging Britain was “unwaveringly” supportive. Mr Zelensky greeted Mr Johnson, saying “Welcome to Kyiv, my friend!” and declared their talks had been “more than a fruitful meeting”.

He tweeted his praise for the PM, writing: “UK Prime Minister @borisjohnsonuk is one of the most principled opponents of the Russian invasion, a leader in sanctions pressure on Russia and defence support for Ukraine. Welcome to Kyiv, my friend!”

President Volodymyr Zelensky said it had been “more than a fruitful meeting” and Tweeted his praise for the PM, saying: “UK Prime Minister @borisjohnsonuk is one of the most principled opponents of the Russian invasion, a leader in sanctions pressure on Russia and defence support for Ukraine. Welcome to Kyiv, my friend!”

He also tweeted: “It was more than a fruitful meeting. We are convinced that we must put even more pressure on Russia, forcing it to make peace.

“Thank you for effective sanctions, for strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities.

“Western democracies must follow the example of Great Britain. We hope that London will play a key role in ensuring the security of our state.”

Describing meeting President Zelensky as a “privilege”, Boris Johnson said: “Ukraine has defied the odds and pushed back Russian forces from the gates of Kyiv, achieving the greatest feat of arms of the 21st century. It is because of President Zelensky’s resolute leadership and the invincible heroism and courage of the Ukrainian people that Putin’s monstrous aims are being thwarted.

“I made clear today that the United Kingdom stands unwaveringly with them in this ongoing fight, and we are in it for the long run.

“We are stepping up our own military and economic support and convening a global alliance to bring this tragedy to an end, and ensure Ukraine survives and thrives as a free and sovereign nation.”

Mr Johnson laid out details about new military assistance for the next stages in Ukraine’s efforts to repulse the Russian invasion. This includes the provision of 120 armoured vehicles and new anti-ship missile systems.

The latest support comes on top of £100million worth of equipment announced last week, including Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles, another 800 anti-tank missiles, and high-tech munitions for “precision strikes”.

The PM also confirmed further economic support, guaranteeing an additional £385million in World Bank lending to Ukraine, taking Britain’s total loan guarantee up to $1billion. Britain has also provided £394million in grant aid.

The PM had been eager to make the personal visit for more than two weeks, but it is said to have been prevented by foreign office mandarins who expressed safety fears. However, the withdrawal of Russian forces from northern Ukraine is believed to have altered the risk equation.

More than 50 SAS soldiers – some in Hereford and some in Poland – spent the last 10 days preparing for the visit.

The Poland-based team had been tasked with liaising with Ukrainian counterparts to choose the best mode of transport and ensuring the route is safe, while the remaining 25 “blades” accompanied the PM.

Wearing civilian clothes, and carrying assault rifles and 66 mm light anti-tank weapons, the soldiers were given the sole task of protecting the Prime Minister and his party of officials.

A Chinook helicopter and two Apaches “on-call” in Poland were ready to airlift the PM if anything went wrong.

Meanwhile, RAF RC-135 spy planes flew along the Polish and Romania borders monitoring Russian air and ground missile activity. In Romania, RAF Typhoon aircraft sat ready to respond in case Putin’s forces attacked.

Former security minister Sir John Hayes said the PM had demonstrated courage and daring.

He said: “The Prime Minister has led Europe in the resistance to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As he did in the pandemic, he has shown why he is the right man to lead Britain.

“You have to dare to be courageous, and we all know that Boris Johnson isn’t short of daring. To dare to be courageous is the mark of good leaders and Boris Johnson has shown he is just that.”

Former armed forces Minister Mark Francois said: “Hats off to the PM for visiting Kyiv and physically demonstrating our support for the brave Ukrainians. You can just imagine the reaction in the Kremlin.”

Tobias Ellwood, a former officer in the Royal Green Jackets who now chairs the defence select committee, pushed for the UK to do more to liberate the country.

He said it was “our time to lead a coalition of the willing, step beyond Nato’s self imposed limits and help train and arm Ukraine to victory”.

Stuart Anderson, a former soldier who also served with the Royal Green Jackets who is now the Tory MP for Wolverhampton South West, was delighted to see the PM alongside Zelensky.

He said: “I think that sight is one of the greatest sights I’ve seen for a long time. You’ve got the hero Zelensky and [his close friend Boris Johnson] looking at how they take on the tyranny of Putin. Standing shoulder to shoulder, our Prime Minister there with the legend that is Zelensky, it just doesn’t get any better than that.”

Illia Ponomarenko, a defence reporter with the Kyiv Independent welcomed Mr Johnson’s visit but hoped to see definite results, saying on Twitter: “Boris Johnson’s surprise visit to Kyiv is a strong and symbolic move. But it will become practical and historic if it results in Ukraine finally getting scores of heavy weaponry and air defence – as soon as possible.”

Johnson last visited Zelensky in Kyiv on February 1 – just three weeks before Russian premier Vladimir Putin triggered a devastating four-pronged military invasion of the country which has seen cities levelled and civilians murdered.

Britain has been a staunch ally to Ukraine since Russia launched its first invasion in 2014, when Putin annexed Crimea and sparked an eight-year war over territorial claims in the eastern Donbas region. Since 2015, Operation Orbital has provided training for 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers and sailors and engaged in large-scale military exercises.

Though the PM is said to speak to the Ukrainian president remotely at least twice a day, his growing desire over the last 10 days to visit Zelensky in person was founded on a desire to show that British support is “more than just at arm’s length”, sources say.

Last month Zelensky issued an open invitation to world leaders to visit him.

“I invite all friends of Ukraine to visit Kyiv” he said, adding: “You know for sure that the eyes of all the people of the world are now focused on our capital, on Ukrainians.”

But, despite a March 15 visit by the premiers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia – when Kyiv was still surrounded by Russian forces – senior civil servants within the FCDO had blocked the move on safety grounds.

“There has been a general consternation over the number of MPs clamouring to go – many who have already gone did so without consulting the FCDO – and this creates work,” said a Whitehall insider.

“Given the security risks, and the fact that the PM speaks to Presidency Zelensky daily there was simply no appetite within the foreign office for him to go until the situation around Kyiv became a bit more stabilised.”

The visit followed a high-profile visit on Friday by European Commission chief Ursula von Der Leyen and the EU’s chief diplomat, Joseph Borrell.

The pair discussed Ukraine’s EU membership bid and options for transporting wheat.

Now was probably the safest period for the PM to make his visit since the conflict erupted, said Justin Crump, CEO of strategic risk group Sibylline.

“No trip to Kyiv is completely risk-free, but if the PM wants to go, this is the best time. Russia has pulled its three northern armies back across the Belarusian border and, when it comes to Western Ukraine, its artillery seems to be mainly focussing on fuel depots.

“He is the first member of the UN security council to visit and that, in itself, has made this visit very significant. “

Putin orders station massacre general to target eastern region

Vladimir Putin has appointed a general accused of ordering the missile strike on Kramatorsk’s railway station that killed at least 52 to mastermind the offensive to seize eastern Ukraine, writes Tony whitfield.

Captain General Aleksandr Dvornikov, 60, also oversaw Russia’s intervention in Syria.

The commander of Russia’s southern military district now leads the invasion after the Kremlin reorganised its top brass following the failure to seize Kyiv, a western official confirmed yesterday.

But Ukraine’s president, Vlodymyr Zelensky, in his nightly address, vowed those responsible for Friday’s attack would face justice for targeting 4,000 people trying to flee the looming offensive.

He told Ukrainians that great efforts would be taken “to establish every minute of who did what, who gave what orders, where the missile came from, who transported it, who gave the command and how this strike was agreed”.

It comes after Russian troops pulled out of northern cities such as Chernihiv, leaving behind further evidence of war crimes.

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The bodies of 132 people executed in Makariv, 30 miles west of Kyiv, were discovered after forces retreated. Mayor Vadym Tokar said the majority of the bodies were in mass graves but some were found in the streets. All died from bullet wounds. Here, the Ministry of Defence said that Russia continues to target Ukrainian non-combatants as its focus has shifted on the Donbas region, Mariupol and Mykolaiv.

The assault is supported by continued cruise missile launches by Russian naval forces and increased air activity.

Ten humanitarian corridors to evacuate people from besieged regions, including Mariupol, were agreed yesterday.

But more need to be evacuated from the Luhansk region, as Governor Serhiy Gaidai warned Russia is “amassing forces for an offensive”.

British warriors lead the way in Nato’s Arctic war game

By land, sea and in the air, British forces played their part in the biggest military exercise in Norway since the end of the Cold War, writes Marco Giannangeli, Defence Editor.

More than 3,000 sailors and Royal Marines joined 27,000 counterparts from 24 Nato countries in the Cold Warrior 22 war game.

The two-week exercise allowed the Royal Navy to demonstrate some of its unique capabilities, from launching commando raids from submarines to operating a fifth-generation aircraft carrier in sub-zero conditions for the first time.

Lieutenant Commander Tom Nason said the exercise had been “an outstanding demonstration of not only our integration with Nato partners but also the ability of Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Fleet Auxiliary units to work together”.

The Royal Navy’s biggest warship, aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales, led the group, demonstrating her ability to act as Nato command ship.

Captain Steve Higham said: “Sailors on the Prince of Wales are continuing to learn the skills and build the experience that allow the Royal Navy to push the boundaries of UK carrier operations in the cold, harsh environment.”

Divers from minehunter HMS Grimsby plunged into the icy fjords to neutralise devices. Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters were deployed over land for the first time, using their Seaspray radar to locate land targets. Merlin choppers ferried Royal Marines, equipment and supplies around the exercise.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, who visited personnel on the ground and HMS Prince of Wales, said: “I congratulate all those from across the services who have achieved so much in the Arctic over recent weeks.

“Having visited the exercise myself I can testify to the challenging conditions and their utmost professionalism and good humour.”

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