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Boris Johnson warns Russia is ‘chewing through ground’ in eastern Ukraine

A man walks in front of a damage building ruined by attacks in Hostomel on the outskirts of Kyiv (Natacha Pisarenko/AP/PA)
A man walks in front of a damage building ruined by attacks in Hostomel on the outskirts of Kyiv (Natacha Pisarenko/AP/PA)

Boris Johnson has stressed the “vital” need to provide Ukraine with fresh military support including long-range rocket launchers as Russian forces slowly “chew through ground” in the east.

The Prime Minister warned Vladimir Putin’s invading army is making “palpable progress” in the Donbas region after abandoning the attempt to encircle Kyiv.

Mr Johnson argued, in an interview with Bloomberg, that more offensive weapons including long-range multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRSs) are needed.

He warned of the dangers in negotiating with the “crocodile” Russian President but said Mr Putin must accept that his so-called “de-Nazification” of Ukraine has finished so he can “withdraw with dignity and honour”.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr Putin’s invading troops have recently captured “several villages” as they attempt to surround Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the Donbas region, according to the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

But it said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s defending forces are holding “multiple defended sectors” as Russia deploys 50-year-old Soviet-era T-62 tanks.

These, the intelligence update said, “will almost certainly be particularly vulnerable” to anti-tank weapons and their use shows Russia’s lack of “modern, combat-ready equipment”.

Mr Johnson said: “I think it’s very, very important that we do not get lulled because of the incredible heroism of the Ukrainians in pushing the Russians back from the gates of Kyiv.

“I’m afraid that Putin at great cost to himself and Russian military is continuing to chew through ground in Donbas, he’s continuing to make gradual, slow but I’m afraid palpable progress.

“And therefore it is absolutely vital that we continue to support the Ukrainians militarily.”

In a phone call to Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban later on Friday, Mr Johnson said he “believed the Ukrainian forces would fight for as long as it took”, according to Downing Street.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, during a visit to Prague, said western allies needed to be “ready for the long haul” when it came to supporting Kyiv’s resistance, with “no talk of ceasefires”.

Speaking at a press conference alongside her Czech Republic counterpart, foreign affairs minister Jan Lipavsky, Ms Truss said: “Now is not the time to be complacent.

“There should be no talk of ceasefires or appeasing Putin.

“We need to make sure that Ukraine wins and that Russia withdraws and that we never see this type of Russian aggression again.”

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba this week urged allies, particularly the US, to provide MLRSs.

“Every day of someone sitting in Washington, Berlin, Paris and other capitals, and considering whether they should or should not do something, costs us lives and territories,” Mr Kuleba said.

The UK has M270 MLRSs but it was unclear from the interview whether Mr Johnson wanted to send the weapons from British stocks or was urging allies to send supplies.

But he said the weapons “would enable them to defend themselves against this very brutal Russian artillery, and that’s where the world needs to go down”.

Reports in the US suggest President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing to send MLRSs to Ukraine.

On peace talks, the Prime Minister said: “How can you deal with a crocodile when it’s in the middle of eating your left leg? What’s the negotiation, and that’s what Putin is doing. He will try to freeze the conflict, he will try to call a ceasefire…”

“The guy’s completely not to be trusted.”