West could target Russia’s gold reserves over Ukraine, says Boris Johnson

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<span>Photograph: Future Publishing/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Future Publishing/Getty Images

Before Nato summit, PM says Putin has crossed ‘red line’ and sending more weapons should be part of west’s response

Boris Johnson has said Vladimir Putin has already “crossed a red line” that merits ramping up the west’s response, suggesting allies must send new weapons to Ukraine, expand curbs on international payments and target Russia’s gold reserves.

The prime minister said the UK would impose sanctions against the Wagner Group, a paramilitary unit that operates as Putin’s private army, whose mercenaries are reportedly tasked with assassinating the Ukrainian president and other key figures.

“We’ve got to step up, we’ve got to increase our support, we’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today as we are sanctioning the Wagner Group,” Johnson told broadcasters before Nato and G7 summits in Brussels on Thursday.

In comments likely to delight Downing Street, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said Johnson had “proved himself the most active participant in the race to be anti-Russian”, according to the RIA news agency.

Johnson’s spokesperson said the prime minister was “one of the most active anti-Putin leaders. We have no issue with the Russian people and, in fact, we’ve seen many bravely protest, not least [the imprisoned opposition leader] Alexei Navalny, against Putin’s regime, and call on them to cease this war.”

Overnight, the prime minister said the UK would double the number of British missiles sent to Ukraine with an additional 6,000, and send an extra £25m to Ukraine’s military. Officials suggested he would entreat European leaders to rapidly increase lethal aid.

Johnson said there were a number of options to further squeeze the Russian economy and aid Ukraine’s defences.

“We need to do more, and so we need to do more economically. Can we do more to stop him [Putin] using his gold reserves, for instance, in addition to his cash reserves?” he told LBC. “The more pressure we apply now, particularly on things like gold, I believe the more we can shorten the war … And then we need to do more to give the Ukrainians military support.”

Nato countries are expected to agree at Thursday’s emergency summit to provide special kit to protect Ukrainians against any chemical, biological or nuclear attacks launched by Russia.

Johnson said he would insist that the siege of Mariupol and the indiscriminate attacks on civilians should be seen as a new escalation, and that the use of chemical or biological weapons should not be the bar set for further punitive measures.

Western officials have said the Ukrainians and the Russians are running short of weapons as the conflict grinds on owing to a Ukrainian defence that has been more successful than expected – and that they had anticipated they would be supporting a smaller Ukrainian insurgency by this stage.

Johnson said that meant the west had to keep Ukraine supplied with weapons. “The big thing that has emerged in the last month – the huge fact that the world now knows – is that the Ukrainian people will fight for their country,” he said.

“That was something we didn’t really know a month ago. We have a duty to help them protect themselves and their loved ones. And so the UK is stepping up again.”

Western officials said there must now be a consensus that Russia is pursuing such a “barbaric” strategy in places such as Mariupol that it should be considered to be an escalation in the war, that merits a new response.

“The point I’m going to make today is … he’s already crossed a threshold of barbarism in the way he’s behaving,” Johnson said. “People talk about new red lines for chemical, biological, tactical nuclear weapons or whatever. For me the red line already has been crossed.”

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, addressed leaders including the US president, Joe Biden, at the Nato meeting in Brussels on Thursday morning via video link.

“You have thousands of fighter jets. But we haven’t been given any yet. We asked for tanks so that we can unblock our cities that are now dying,” he said. “You have at least 20,000 tanks. Ukraine asked for 1% of all your tanks to be given or sold to us, but we do not have a clear answer yet. The worst thing during the war is not having clear answers to requests for help.”

Poland is expected to present a proposal at the meeting for a multinational peacekeeping mission in Ukraine, but there is no support from the US or many other allies for a no-fly zone or any other direct Nato intervention, despite the increasingly bloody fighting.

Related: One month on: how a tragedy has unfolded in Ukraine

Nato leaders are also expected on Thursday to agree to increase troop deployments on the alliance’s eastern flank.

EU leaders will hold meetings later in the day. Biden will be a guest at the EU summit, but Johnson has not been invited. The other meetings are likely to focus on trying to agree a further toughening of economic sanctions.

The UK foreign secretary, Liz Truss, announced a new wave of UK sanctions before the summit, including against defence companies and six new banks.

New individuals subjected to sanctions include the founder of Tinkoff bank, Oleg Tinkov; the foreign minister Sergei Lavrov’s stepdaughter Polina Kovaleva, who owns a luxury London apartment; and Galina Danilchenko, installed by Russia as the mayor of Melitopol as part of attempts to create a puppet regime in occupied areas of Ukraine.

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