Johnson accuses Putin of ‘barbaric’ targeting of Ukrainian civilians

The Prime Minister spoke as Russian forces stepped up their attacks on Ukrainian cities.

Geraldine Scott
Tuesday 01 March 2022 10:42
This handout photo released by Ukrainian Emergency Service shows a view of the damaged City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Russian shelling pounded civilian targets in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, Tuesday and a 40-mile convoy of tanks and other vehicles threatened the capital — tactics Ukraine’s embattled president said were designed to force him into concessions in Europe’s largest ground war in generations. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)
This handout photo released by Ukrainian Emergency Service shows a view of the damaged City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Russian shelling pounded civilian targets in Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, Tuesday and a 40-mile convoy of tanks and other vehicles threatened the capital — tactics Ukraine’s embattled president said were designed to force him into concessions in Europe’s largest ground war in generations. (Ukrainian Emergency Service via AP)

Boris Johnson has accused Vladimir Putin of unleashing “barbaric and indiscriminate” violence against Ukrainian civilians as Russian forces closed in on Kyiv.

A military convoy around 40 miles long is north of the Ukrainian capital and there are fears that the city will face a barrage of rockets and shells which could inflict devastating civilian casualties.

Ukraine has already accused Russia of war crimes during the invasion over the bombardment of civilian areas in the second city Kharkiv.

Speaking during a visit to Warsaw, Mr Johnson said the Russian president had decided to “bomb tower blocks, to send missiles into tower blocks, to kill children, as we are seeing in increasing numbers”.

But he said that in the “grim war” Mr Putin had “fatally underestimated” the resistance of the Ukrainians and the resolve of the West to act.

The Prime Minister paid tribute to the “leadership and courage” of Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president.

“I think he has inspired and mobilised not only his own people, he is inspiring and mobilising the world in outrage at what is happening in Ukraine,” Mr Johnson added.

(PA Graphics)

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, said he plans to open an investigation “as rapidly as possible” into possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

UK Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, a former Foreign Office lawyer, said it must be clear “both to Putin but also to commanders in Moscow and on the ground in Ukraine that they will be held accountable for any violations of the laws of war”.

He told Sky News: “Those that engage in war crimes will be held to account.”

Western officials fear that the slow progress of the Russian invasion will lead Mr Putin and his commanders to adopt more brutal and indiscriminate tactics to achieve the Kremlin’s goals.

Mr Raab told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can expect, for every stutter and stumble, him to try and come back for even more heavy-handed tactics, but that is a sign that the initial phase at least – and this is going to be a long haul – has not lived up to his expectations.”

The latest intelligence from the Ministry of Defence said the advance on Kyiv had made little progress over the past 24 hours, probably due to logistical problems.

But there had been increased use of artillery north of the capital.

Satellite images from the Maxar company showed the extent of the Russian forces massing around Kyiv, with a column of armoured vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles stretching 40 miles.

The northern end of a convoy of Russian vehicles (Maxar Technologies/AP)

That force was 17 miles from the capital on Monday.

Mr Johnson is visiting Poland and Estonia to help show the UK’s support for its eastern Nato allies.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was in Geneva addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council, where she was due to accuse Mr Putin of “violating international law”.

“He is violating human rights on an industrial scale and the world will not stand for it,” she will say.

(PA Graphics)

Mr Johnson’s visit to Poland, one of the main destinations for people fleeing from Ukraine, came as the UK Government faced pressure to do more to address the refugee crisis.

The Prime Minister told his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki: “We stand ready, clearly, to take Ukrainian refugees in our own country, working with you, in considerable numbers, as we always have done and always will.”

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At the moment, what the Home Office is doing is trying to just tweak the existing system.

“They’re trying to carry on with a version of business as usual, with a version of asking people to apply for traditional work visas or traditional visitor visas or traditional family visas that are still narrowly drawn.

“And the normal system just doesn’t work when you are facing war in Europe, when you’re facing a crisis on this scale.”

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