Russian invasion would 'shock the world' and 'destroy democracy' in Ukraine, warns PM

19 February 2022, 10:02 | Updated: 19 February 2022, 22:29

Boris Johnson addressed a security conference in Munich after a gas pipeline in Ukraine was blown up, prompting a mass civilian evacuation
Boris Johnson addressed a security conference in Munich after a gas pipeline in Ukraine was blown up, prompting a mass civilian evacuation. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned a Russian invasion would 'destroy democracy' in Ukraine and send 'shock around the world'.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Speaking at a security conference in Munich, Germany, Mr Johnson said the world could witness "the destruction of a democratic state" if Russia invaded Ukraine and said "the shock will echo around the world".

"If Ukraine is invaded and if Ukraine is overwhelmed, we will witness the destruction of a democratic state, a country that has been free for a generation, with a proud history of elections," he said.

"If Ukraine is invaded, the shock will echo around the world, and those echoes will be heard in East Asia they will be heard in Taiwan.

"When I spoke to the Prime Ministers of Japan and Australia this week, they let me know that the economic political shocks will be on the far side of the world."

He also warned the "omens" from Russia are "grim".

"As I speak to you today, we do not fully know what President Putin intends, but the omens are grim and that is why we must stand strong together," he said, adding: "We should not underestimate the gravity of this moment and what is at stake."

Later on Saturday, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the signals coming out of Russia suggest Moscow is readying for a "full-fledged attack" on Ukraine.

"Every indication indicates that Russia is planning a full-fledged attack against Ukraine," he told German broadcaster ARD.

"We all agree that the risk of an attack is very high."

It comes as multiple explosions were heard on Saturday morning in the the north of the separatist-controlled city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to a Reuters witness.

The origin of the explosions was not clear and there was no immediate comments from Kiev or the separatist authorities.

There are fears that violence in the region could be used as justification for a Russian invasion of Ukraine, known as a "false flag" operation.

The Prime Minister later told reporters there is anxiety that the violence - which the UK believes Russia is behind - could be a "prelude to bigger action" from Moscow.

He said he believed there was "still time" for a diplomatic solution to the current tension.

Asked whether he thought the Russian president had decided to invade, Mr Johnson replied: "I think only one person really knows the answer to that question, and that is Vladimir Putin.

"I think there's still time for wise counsel, still time for common sense to win.

"We hope that President Putin will think better of what I think will be an absolutely crazy, disastrous venture in Ukraine.

"I think what's happening at the moment in Donbas is exactly what we would expect to happen - the kind of provocations that the Russians engage in generally.

"And I'm afraid that this could well be the prelude to bigger action."

Also on Saturday morning, a separatist leader in eastern Ukraine ordered a full military mobilisation amid a spike in violence in the war-torn region.

Denis Pushilin, the head of the pro-Russian separatist government in the Donetsk region, released a statement on Saturday announcing a full troop mobilisation and urging reservists to show up at military enlistment offices.

The announcement came as a mass evacuation of women, children and the elderly from the rebel-held territories in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to neighbouring Russia got under way.

Read more: US 'convinced' Putin will invade Ukraine but PM says world can 'avoid bloodshed'

Read more: 'Explosion' in Ukraine's separatist capital after warnings of Russian 'false flag' attack

US president Joe Biden said on Friday he is now "convinced" his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and assault the capital, Kiev.

After weeks of saying the US was not sure if Mr Putin had made the final decision, Mr Biden said that his judgment had changed, citing American intelligence.

"As of this moment, I'm convinced he's made the decision," the US leader said.

"We have reason to believe that."

He reiterated that the assault could occur in the "coming days".

Mr Johnson added today: "I think certainly things are in motion, but the question is whether it can all be pulled back, and whether the president of Russia is still able to call this operation off.

"I think that possibility must logically still exist, and therefore I think it's absolutely vital that we have a path of dialogue, of reason."

The president's comments at the White House followed a day of rising violence that included a humanitarian convoy hit by shelling and a car bombing in the eastern city of Donetsk.

Pro-Russian rebels began evacuating civilians from the conflict zone with an announcement that appeared to be part of Moscow's efforts to paint Ukraine as the aggressor instead.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin has announced massive nuclear drills to flex its military muscle, and Mr Putin pledged to protect Russia's national interests against what it sees as encroaching Western threats.

Read more: Putin may launch 'false flag chemical weapons attack' before Ukraine invasion

Read more: Ukraine crisis: You've got to decide which side you're on in this, says Iain Dale

Mr Biden reiterated his threat of crushing economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia if it does invade, and pressed Mr Putin to reconsider. He said the US and its Western allies were more united than ever to ensure Russia pays a steep price for any invasion.

As further indication that the Russians are preparing for a major military push, a US defence official said an estimated 40 to 50 per cent of the ground forces deployed in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border have moved into attack positions closer to the border.

That shift has been under way for about a week, other officials have said, and does not necessarily mean Mr Putin has decided to begin an invasion.

The official also said the number of Russian ground units known as battalion tactical groups in the border area had grown to as many as 125, up from 83 two weeks ago. Each group has 750 to 1,000 soldiers.

Lines of communication remain open. The US and Russian defence chiefs spoke on Friday, and US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to meet next week.

Immediate worries focused on eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting pro-Russia rebels since 2014 in a conflict that has killed some 14,000 people.

With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops now posted around Ukraine's borders, the long-simmering separatist conflict could provide the spark for a broader attack.

Fears of such escalation intensified amid Friday's violence. A bombing struck a car outside the main government building in the rebel-held city of Donetsk, according to an Associated Press journalist there.

The head of the separatist forces, Denis Sinenkov, said the car was his, the Interfax news agency reported.

There were no reports of casualties and no independent confirmation of the circumstances of the blast.

Shelling and shooting are common along the line that separates Ukrainian forces and the rebels, but targeted violence is unusual in rebel-held cities.

Adding to the tensions, two explosions shook the rebel-controlled city of Luhansk early on Saturday. The Luhansk Information Centre said one of the blasts was in a natural gas main and cited witnesses as saying the other was at a vehicle service station.

There was no immediate word on injuries or a cause. Luhansk officials blamed a gas main explosion earlier in the week on sabotage.

Read more: Nato chief warns no de-escalation in Ukraine as he urges Russia to 'choose path of peace'

Read more: 'Don't fear Putin': Former Ukraine PM's message to West as Russia invasion 'highly likely'

Overall, monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported more than 600 explosions in the war-torn east of Ukraine on Friday.

Separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that form Ukraine's industrial heartland known as the Donbas announced they were evacuating civilians to Russia.

Mr Pushilin, the head of the Donetsk rebel government, said women, children and the elderly would go first, and that Russia has prepared facilities for them.

He alleged in a video statement that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was going to order an imminent offensive in the area.

Metadata from two videos posted by the separatists announcing the evacuation show that the files were created two days ago, The Associated Press confirmed.

US authorities have alleged that the Kremlin's disinformation campaign could include staged, pre-recorded videos.

Authorities began moving children from an orphanage in Donetsk, and other residents boarded buses for Russia. Long lines formed at gas stations as more people prepared to leave on their own.

Mr Putin has ordered the government to offer a payment of 10,000 rubles (about £95) to each evacuee, equivalent to about half of an average monthly salary in the war-ravaged Donbas region.

By Saturday morning, more than 6,600 residents of the rebel-controlled areas were evacuated to Russia, according to separatist officials, who have announced plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.

The explosions and the announced evacuations were in line with US warnings of so-called false flag attacks that Russia could use to justify an invasion.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the threat to global security is "more complex and probably higher" than during the Cold War.

He told a security conference in Munich that a small mistake or miscommunication between major powers could have catastrophic consequences.

Read more: Eleventh hour peace bid: PM To hold crisis talks as Russia on 'brink of war with Ukraine'

Read more: Leave Ukraine while you can, minister warns amid fears Russia could invade within days

Russia announced this week that it was pulling back forces from vast military exercises, but US officials said they saw no sign of a pullback and instead observed more troops moving toward the border with Ukraine.

The Kremlin also sent a reminder to the world of its nuclear might, announcing drills of its nuclear forces for the weekend.

Mr Putin will monitor the exercise Saturday that will involve multiple practice missile launches.

Asked about Western warnings of a possible Russian invasion on Wednesday that did not materialise, Mr Putin said: "There are so many false claims, and constantly reacting to them is more trouble than it's worth.

"We are doing what we consider necessary and will keep doing so.

"We have clear and precise goals conforming to national interests."

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

Governor Greg Abbott says he is "livid" at the police response to the Texas shooting

Texas official 'livid' as police admit 'wrong' not to storm school with gunman inside

Fusako Shigenobu and her daughter Mei

Japanese terror group founder freed after serving 20-year sentence

People work on a flooded field

13 dead, three missing after torrential rains in southern China

Protesters hold a rally at Discovery Green Park, across the street from the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting held at the George R. Brown Convention Center Friday, May 27, 2022, in Houston.

Governor claims he was ‘misled’ about response to shooting

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry workers disassemble a destroyed building in Mariupol, in territory under the government of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, Friday, May 27, 2022

Russian Communist deputy makes statement of opposition to war in Ukraine

Texas School Shooting

School shooting survivor covered herself in friend’s blood and played dead

Texas shooting

Governor says he was ‘misled’ about response to shooting

Investigators search for evidence outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas

Children called 911 during Texas school shooting saying ‘please send police’

A damaged building ruined by attacks in Hostomel, outskirts Kyiv, Ukraine (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

Russia squeezes Ukrainian strongholds in east

NATO sent two Norwegian F-35s to respond to the Russian planes

NATO scrambles fighter jets to intercept Russian aircraft near border with Finland

Footage of the shocking incident has been shared widely online

Man dies in boot of police car in Brazil after officers turned it into 'gas chamber'

A worker disinfecting a table in Pyongyang

Doubt cast on North Korea’s claim of just 69 coronavirus deaths

Relatives outside the blaze hospital

Senegal’s president calls for national mourning after 11 babies die in fire

Russian superyacht Amadea

US wins latest round of legal battle to seize oligarch’s yacht in Fiji

Joe and Irma Garcia were married for 24 years

Widower of teacher shot dead in Texas massacre dies ‘of broken heart’ days after shooting

Messages are written on a cross honouring Irma Garcia, a teacher who was killed in this week's elementary school shooting, in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday

Grieving husband of teacher killed in Texas school rampage collapses and dies