Putin has gone 'full Tonto,' Defence Sec claims as videos show tanks at Ukraine border

23 February 2022, 15:53 | Updated: 23 February 2022, 17:51

Ben Wallace has warned President Putin has gone "full Tonto".
Ben Wallace has warned President Putin has gone "full Tonto". Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Vladimir Putin has gone "full Tonto", the Defence Secretary has warned as viral clips show Russian tanks massing on Ukraine's border.

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Ben Wallace compared the Russian president to Tsar Nicholas I during the Crimean War, saying he has made the mistake of having no allies in his actions.

Mr Wallace, a former Scots Guards officer, said his regiment had "kicked the backside" of the tsar in the Crimea and "we can always do it again".

It comes as viral clips show the number of Russian tanks building on Ukraine's border, as fears grow that Putin is going to launch a "full-scale" invasion.

Videos on Twitter appear to show Russian battalion tactical groups stationed just outside Ukraine’s border at Belgorod.

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Mr Wallace said the UK has 1,000 personnel on stand-by to respond to the crisis, adding: "The Scots Guards kicked the backside of Tsar Nicholas I in 1853 in Crimea - we can always do it again."

He continued: "Tsar Nicholas I made the same mistake Putin did... he had no friends, no alliances."

His comments came as the Cabinet minister chatted with serving military personnel at the Horse Guards building in Westminster.

He said: "It's going to be a busy Army.

"Unfortunately we've got a busy adversary now in Putin, who has gone full Tonto.

Mr Wallace told reporters he was keeping the possibility of sending further weapons to Ukraine "under constant review", adding: "We're in a pretty good position to deliver any type of aid pretty quickly to Ukraine, no matter what that aid is."

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He also suggested that Russian forces invading Ukraine could be followed by a mobile crematorium to help disguise the number of casualties inflicted during the potential war - a move he described as "chilling".

"Fundamentally, when you have over 60% of your combat forces poised on the borders of another state, the overwhelming scale of the Russian intimidation and forces - including some pretty horrendous weapons systems - are pretty worrying.

"And we also expect to see some of the things they've done previously. Previously, they've deployed mobile crematoriums to follow troops around the battlefield, which in anyone's book is chilling.

"If I was a soldier, and knew that my generals had so little faith in me that they followed me around the battlefield in a mobile crematorium, or I was the mother or a father of a son, potentially deployed into a combat zone, and my government thought that the way to cover up loss was a mobile crematorium - I'd be deeply, deeply worried."

Read more: 'European security order is at stake' in NATO's Russia response, warns EU Parliament VP

Earlier, Liz Truss told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast it is "highly unlikely" Putin won't launch a full-scale attack, just hours before Boris Johnson confirmed the UK will be sending further military aid to Ukraine.

The Prime Minister said this was "in light of the increasingly threatening behaviour" from Russia.

Putin, as he has done throughout the crisis, insisted that diplomacy with the West is still possible but gave no hint that he is willing to back down over any of his security demands - including that Ukraine disarm and drop its bid to join NATO.

These have been dismissed by the US, Kiev and NATO as non-starters.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is set to declare a state of emergency which will last 30 days.

Top security official Oleksiy Danilov said it would be imposed across all regions except in Donetsk and Luhansk, if approved by its parliament.

A Russian military vehicle is seen loaded on a train platform at the Neklinovka railway station in Russia's southern Rostov region, which borders the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.
A Russian military vehicle is seen loaded on a train platform at the Neklinovka railway station in Russia's southern Rostov region, which borders the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic. Picture: Getty

It comes as the UK pledges to sanction Russia further if it launches a full-scale invasion.

The Prime Minister has come under-fire for the "weak" sanctions he has so far imposed - which include targeting five Russian banks and three oligarchs.

These were put in place after Russia sent troops into two pro-Moscow parts of the country - despite Putin insisting it's a peacekeeping mission.

The president has since recognised the two pro-Russian regions of eastern Ukraine - Donetsk and Luhansk - as independent states.

Boris Johnson's been defending the sanctions so far placed on Russia - saying they're the first of a "barrage", but Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer wants the Prime Minister to go further.

He told the House on Wednesday: "At the weekend the Prime Minister said that if Russia invades Ukraine he will open up the Matryoshka dolls of Russian-owned companies and Russian-owned entities to find the ultimate beneficiaries within.

"Well, Russia has invaded and it's time to act. If the Prime Minister brings forward the required legislation to do this, he will have Labour's support, so will he commit to do so in the coming days?"

Boris Johnson replied: "We are, as I said, bringing forward in the next wave of sanctions measures that will stop all Russian banks, all oligarchs, all Russian individuals, raising money on London markets, and we are also accelerating the Economic Crime Bill which will enable us in the UK to peel back - in the next session - to peel back the facade of beneficial ownership of property in the UK and of companies.

"It's gone on for far too long, we are going to tackle it under this Government, but on all these measures I think it is very, very important that the House remembers they are more effective when all financial centres move forward together. That is what the UK has been organising."