Boris Johnson warns Vladimir Putin against ‘tragic’ Ukraine invasion

UK prime minister says Russia would pay a high price in sanctions for ‘miscalculation’

A Ukrainian serviceman on the frontline in Donetsk. A Ukrainian serviceman on the frontline in Donetsk. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty ImagesA Ukrainian serviceman on the frontline in Donetsk. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP/Getty Images

Diplomatic editor

Boris Johnson has warned Vladimir Putin that he will make a “tragic miscalculation” if he invades Ukraine, in a phone call delayed since Monday and preceded by Russian insults.

Putin, the Kremlin said, had complained that Russia’s demand for justifiable security guarantees have not been met. The Russian president also told Johnson that Kyiv was involved in “the chronic sabotage” of the Minsk agreements designed to reach a political settlement in the east of Ukraine, including greater autonomy.

The Kremlin did not say how Russia will respond to what it described as Nato’s unreadiness to answer what it sees as justified Russian concerns.

No 10 said: “The prime minister expressed his deep concern about Russia’s current hostile activity on the Ukrainian border. He emphasised the need to find a way forward which respects both Ukraine’s territorial integrity and right to self-defence.

“The prime minister stressed that any further Russian incursion into Ukrainian territory would be a tragic miscalculation.”

Boris JohnsonThe phone call had been delayed since Monday owing to Johnson’s need to answer questions on the Sue Gray report. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/Zuma/Rex/Shutterstock

Johnson refused to backtrack on Nato’s open door policy, saying: “All European democracies have a right to aspire to Nato membership. This right fully applies to Ukraine.”

He also reiterated that Nato is a defensive alliance. The spokesperson added: “The leaders agreed that aggravation was in no one’s interest. The prime minister stressed the importance of dialogue and diplomacy, and the need to include Ukraine in talks.”

Putin and Johnson agreed that they had been able to co-operate over Iran, Afghanistan and climate change, according to No 10, adding they needed to “apply this spirit of dialogue to the current tensions in order to find a peaceful resolution”.

The conversation finally went ahead following a cancellation of the call on Monday due to Johnson’s need to answer MPs’ questions about the damning update to an official report showing parties had been repeatedly held in No 10 in breach of Covid regulations.

Johnson was expected to use the call to try to persuade Putin he will end up paying an unacceptably high price if he invades Ukraine, including sanctions on his inner political circle and the Russian economy, export controls and fierce British-backed military resistance by Ukrainians.

He also sought to warn Putin that his explicit use of energy supplies to reward his political allies in Europe and punish his opponents is going to backfire as it is driving Europe to look for more reliable alternative sources of supply.

With Britain at the forefront of the nations warning about the imminence of a Russian attack, Johnson could hardly have expected the red carpet treatment, but the Kremlin in advance of the call also tried to belittle the UK’s influence in the crisis saying Putin was happy to hold talks with anyone, even the “utterly confused”.

Ahead of the call Johnson told MPs: “We have been helping to bring the west together to defy what I think is completely unacceptable threats and intimidation from the Putin regime against Ukraine.

“The situation is very perilous, and the job of the UK is to lead the west in bringing together the most important countries in creating a package of economic sanctions that will deter President Putin from what I believe would be a disastrous miscalculation, and also to strengthen our support for the Ukrainian people and, indeed, the Ukrainian army.”

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