Boris Johnson has told MPs that Britain is looking at “going up a gear” in its military assistance to Ukraine, potentially supplying armoured vehicles to help relieve the besieged city of Mariupol.
And the prime minister said that in the long term, the UK and its Western allies need to undertake a “total rethink” of the way that Ukraine and other former Soviet states are protected from Russian aggression, ensuring that they are so fortified with Nato weapons that Moscow would not dare invade.
Mr Johnson indicated that Ukraine cannot expect to receive full Nato membership, with the guarantee of military protection offered by Article 5 of the alliance’s treaty. But he suggested that Nato weaponry could ensure - like the quills on a porcupine - that the country is “indigestible” to any invading army.
Speaking to the House of Commons Liaison Committee, Mr Johnson again cautioned allies against easing sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime in response to a potential Russian ceasefire, insisting that a full withdrawal of troops is required before any relaxation of measures can be contemplated.
And he appeared to agree with Tory MP Tom Tugendhat that this should include withdrawal from Ukraine “whole and entire”, including the Crimea and Donbas regions occupied since 2014, telling him it meant sanctions should not be stepped down “until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine”.
Mr Johnson cast doubt on the value of the negotiations with Putin pursued by France’s Emmanuel Macron, saying that he believed the Russian president cannot be trusted. He warned that an early relaxation of sanctions would “go straight into Putin’s playbook”.
“In my view we should intensify sanctions with a rolling programme until every single one of his troops is out of Ukraine,” he said.
Asked what immediate help the UK can offer to Ukraine now, Mr Johnson said: “We are certainly looking at going up a gear now in our support for the Ukrainians as they defend themselves.
“In Mariupol, the issue is that Ukrainian defenders are now pretty much encircled and there’s a humanitarian catastrophe. The question is, can we help the Ukrainians relieve Mariupol, if that were possible? Would armour, would APCs (armoured personnel carriers) be useful for them (or) armoured Land Rovers? We are certainly looking at that.”
Mr Johnson said he was also ready to consider supplying armoured ambulances, though they had not yet been requested by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Over the longer term, Mr Johnson said it was necessary to “have a total rethink about the support that we offer countries such as Georgia and Ukraine”.
He said: “What we are evolving towards is, I think, a new way of looking at Ukraine and other countries of the former Soviet Union.
“Because of the sheer quantity of Nato-compatible materiel and the weapons that we are now supplying, we're changing the dynamic and we're changing the security architecture of the situation, bit by bit.
“There's going to come a point where I think we should recognise that this has happened and that we, I hope, will be in a position with willing partners to offer not an Article 5 security guarantee to Ukraine, but a different kind of future, a differen kinds of commitment, based on the idea of deterrence by denial.
“So that Ukraine is so fortified and so protected - the quills of the porcupine have become so stiff - that it is ever after indigestible to Putin. That is that is the path that we are now and I think that's a very productive way of thinking about something that has been a problem we have been unable to solve, which is the homelessness of Ukraine and other countries in Europe’s security architecture.”
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