Boris Johnson backs ‘no compromise’ with Putin on second secret trip to Kyiv

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·6-min read
Boris Johnson backs ‘no compromise’ with Putin on second secret trip to Kyiv
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Boris Johnson made a second secret trip to Kyiv on Friday and backed Ukraine making “no compromise” with Vladimir Putin.

The Prime Minister gave Britain’s support for the hard line against Mr Putin after the war crimes committed by Russian forces and the illegal deportation of Ukrainian civilians from occupied parts of the country.

It came as he announced Britain stood ready to launch a major training operation for Ukrainian forces, with the potential to train up to 10,000 soldiers every 120 days.

Speaking at a press conference after meeting with president Volodymyr Zelensky he praised how “life is coming back to the streets” of the Ukrainian capital but warned how in the east of the country “a barbaric assault continues on entirely innocent people,”

“Towns and villages are being reduced to rubble,” he said. “And as you rightly say, Volodymyr, we continue to see the deliberate targeting of civilians - what is unquestionably a war crime.

“And in a hideous echo of the past, the illegal deportation of people that the Russian forces believe are insufficiently sympathetic to Putin’s aggression and in these circumstances, we can only once again salute the heroism of the Ukrainian forces, the bravery of your armed forces.

“In these circumstances, Volodymyr, I completely understand why you and your people can make no compromise with Putin.”

Mr Zelensky has previously spoken of how he will not give up his country’s land in return for an end to the war with Russia.

During talks with Mr Zelensky, Mr Johnson discussed how the troop training programme would aim to help Ukraine turn the tide in the battle for the Donbas and any future fighting in other parts of the country.

 (UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)
(UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)

Mr Johnson said the training could “change the equation of this war –harnessing that most powerful of forces, the Ukrainian determination to win.”

The UK-led military programme would train and drill Ukrainian soldiers using “battle-proven British Army expertise”, he said.

This would aim to speed up their deployment to the frontline, allowing Ukranian generals to rebuild their forces which are losing between 200 to 500 troops a day, according to some reports, and to boost resistance against Russian offensives.

Downing Street said that each soldier would spend three weeks on the training course, learning “battle winning skills”, as well as basic medical training, cyber-security and counter-explosive tactics.

Britain would invite other allies to take part in the training operation. The UK’s previous Operation Orbital saw more than 22,000 Ukrainian military personnel trained from 2015 until Mr Putin’s invasion of the country on February 24.

Boris Johnson said UK military assistance to Ukraine is aimed at expelling Russian forces from the country.

“That will be the moment for talks about the future of Ukraine and it will be in that context of a free Ukraine that we and other countries will be making the security commitments and guarantees we have discussed so often,” he said.

The Prime Minister travelled to the Ukrainian capital in a trip kept secret for security reasons.

Shortly after 3.30pm UK time Mr Johnson shared a photograph of his meeting with Mr Zelensky on Twitter, with the caption: “Mr President, Volodymyr, It is good to be in Kyiv again.”

A message on Mr Zelensky’s Telegram account read: “Many days of this war have proved that Great Britain’s support for Ukraine is firm and resolute.

“Glad to see our country’s great friend Boris Johnson in Kyiv again.”

The pair also discussed how Britain could play “a pivotal role”, according to No10, in ending the Russian blockade of Ukraine’s ports on the Black Sea including Odesa which are vital for grain to be exported within weeks, particularly to developing countries, to avoid leaving millions of people at risk of starvation.

 (UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)
(UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)

Mr Zelensky has repeatedly praised Mr Johnson and Britain for the support for his country.

The UK has already pledged more than £1.3 billion in military, economic and humanitarian support to Ukraine including more than 5,000 NLAW anti-tank missiles, long-range multiple launch rocket systems, and artillery systems including 155mm Self Propelled Guns.

Kyiv is appealing for more heavy weapons as it is currently being heavily outgunned in the artillery battle in the Donbas including in the embattled city of Severodonetsk in the Luhansk province.

Speaking at the joint news conference after the talks Mr Johnson said Ukrainians had inflicted heavy losses on the Russians.

“If Ukrainian troops are suffering then I have to tell you all the evidence is that Putin’s troops are under acute pressure themselves and they are taking heavy casualties,” he said.

“Their expenditure of munitions – of shells and other weaponry – is colossal. After 114 days of attack on Ukraine, they have still not achieved the objectives they set out for the first week.”

 (UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)
(UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL PRESS SER)

Mr Johnson’s whereabouts on Friday had been a mystery, with some reports that he was in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip and others that he was heading to Doncaster to speak with Tory MPs from the North of England.

The prime minister had faced criticism from some Conservative MPs for his absence in Doncaster, which was defended by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace who said on Friday evening that “these trips are organised in total secrecy”.

He said: “Very few, and I mean very few, people know the dates and arrangements.

“Visits are sometimes necessary in person because not everything can be discussed securely over phones etc. Russia has an aggressive electronic warfare and signal intelligence operation.”

Mr Wallace added: “As a Northern MP myself, I am not affronted by the fact he had to cancel speaking at the conference … Helping Ukriane win and trying to help at home are linked.

“Part of the inflation we see comes from gas and food prices which are partly driven upwards because of this conflict.”

Mr Johnson stole a march on other Western leaders by first going to Kyiv in April, with Britain at the forefront of supplying weapons to Ukraine for its battle against Vladimir Putin’s army.

He was in Kyiv for the second time just one day after French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi had arrived there to give a show of “unity” for Ukraine. During that time, they discussed their support for Ukraine’s bid to join the European Union.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meet for a working session in Mariinsky Palace in Ukraine (REUTERS)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, France’s President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz meet for a working session in Mariinsky Palace in Ukraine (REUTERS)

Their trip was made public with a picture of them in a train on their way to Kyiv.

In contrast, both Mr Johnson’s visits have been kept quiet, amid the belief that he could be a target for Mr Putin’s regime given his hardline stance against the invasion.

Kyiv has accused Germany, France and to a lesser extent Italy of dragging their feet in confronting Mr Putin’s military aggression by being slower to supply weapons to Ukraine and to push for tough sanctions on Russia.

Germany and other some European countries are heavily dependent on Russian gas.

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