UK forced to step in with new alliance as Macron and Scholz bids to stop Russia fail

Russia: Expert on ‘closing the taps on Europe’

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Ukraine officials in Kiev on Tuesday, accelerating talks for a three-way alliance with Ukraine and Poland as Russian troops amass on the EU border. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal confirmed in a press conference, following a meeting with Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, that the three countries will soon sign a trilateral document to set up a new format for regional cooperation.

It comes as French President Emmanuel Macron failed to make progress with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone on Monday.

The French leader was accused, together with his German counterpart Olaf Scholz, of exacerbating tensions with the Normandy approach to talks.

The Normandy format brought together the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France to help end the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kiev’s forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Asked about a possible physical meeting between Mr Macron and President Putin, a French official said this had not been ruled out, but no date had been set.

The official said: “There is a long-standing invitation, the dialogue is constant.”

On the other side of the Channel, however, Boris Johnson said the UK will hit Moscow with sanctions the “moment the first Russian toecap crosses further into Ukrainian territory”.

The Prime Minister accused President Putin of effectively “holding a gun … to the head of Ukraine” as he told the Kremlin to step back from a “military disaster”.

The Prime Minister warned of a “clear and present danger” presented by the massing of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops on its border with Ukraine, which he described as possibly the greatest act of hostility “towards the Ukraine in our lifetimes”.

At a joint press conference with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in the Mariinskyi presidential palace, Mr Johnson said: “We are also preparing a package of sanctions and other measures to be enacted the moment the first Russian toecap crosses further into Ukrainian territory.

“We have done all this and prepared all this not as a show of hostility towards Russia, but as a demonstration that we will always stand up for freedom and democracy and Ukrainian sovereignty in the face of aggression.

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“It is vital that Russia steps back and chooses a path of diplomacy, and I believe that is still possible.

“We are keen to engage in dialogue, of course we are, but we have the sanctions ready, we’re providing military support and we will also intensify our economic co-operation.”

Despite stressing his eagerness to engage in dialogue with Mr Putin, Downing Street was forced to reschedule a call between the men on Monday as the Prime Minister battled allegations threatening his leadership.

Mr Johnson insisted his focus is “entirely” on the British public’s priorities and the security of allies, as he warned Ukraine will put up a “very, very fierce” resistance.

“I think that parents, mothers, in Russia should reflect on that fact and I hope very much that president Putin steps back from the path of conflict and re-engages with dialogue, that’s what the UK is intent on,” he added.

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Mr Johnson said a call with Mr Putin had now been rescheduled for Wednesday, during which it is expected he will again ask for a dialling down of aggression.

Mr Zelensky said “preventative sanctions” against Russia could prevent further escalation of tensions, when the prospect of Mr Putin being hit with sanctions personally was raised.

“If you’re asking me, I would say that they would work if they are introduced prior to escalation,” the Ukrainian leader said.

He also said he would support any move by Britain to deal with “dirty money” linked to corruption and the Kremlin being washed through the City of London.

The UK Government announced overnight that £88 million in aid would be sent to Ukraine to support the country.

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