The UK is to hit Russia with a “first barrage” of economic sanctions as Boris Johnson warned Vladimir Putin is fixed on a “full-scale invasion of Ukraine”.
Speaking after a meeting of the government’s emergency COBRA committee early on Tuesday morning, the prime minister warned the Russian president was aiming for “the over-running, the subjugation of an independent, sovereign European country”.
Mr Putin on Monday night recognised two breakaway areas of eastern Ukraine as independent states and ordered Russian forces to carry out “peacekeeping” duties in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The PM said Russia and Mr Putin had now “plainly” violated Ukrainian sovereignty.
“He’s sent troops in, he’s broken international law, he’s repudiated the Minsk agreements, and torn up the understanding from Budapest in 1994 that Ukraine’s territorial integrity would be respected,” he said.
“He’s completely torn up international law and we will immediately institute a package of economic sanctions, which I think his people would expect.
“Targeted not just at entities in Donbass, in Luhansk and Donestsk, but in Russia itself targeting Russian economic interests as hard as we can.”
Mr Johnson is due to set out further details of the UK’s sanctions in the House of Commons later on Tuesday.
Earlier, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News the invasion of Ukraine “has begun” and Europeans were “waking up to a very dark day”, as tanks and armoured vehicles were seen overnight near Donetsk, in a breakaway region of eastern Ukraine.
“It’s clear from what we have already seen and found out today that the Russians and President [Vladimir] Putin have decided to attack the sovereignty of Ukraine and its territorial integrity,” Mr Javid told Kay Burley.
“We’ve always said that’s completely unacceptable. We’ve seen that he has recognised these breakaway eastern regions in Ukraine.
“And, from the reports or I think we can already tell, he has sent in tanks and troops.
“So I think, from that, you can conclude the invasion of Ukraine has begun.”
Mr Javid said Ukraine had been assured of UK support and confirmed Britain would now introduce more sanctions on Russia “as we said we always will”.
Those measures are set to come into force today.
“I’m sure that we will make those sanctions as targeted as possible at the people who are responsible for this flagrant violation of international law,” Mr Javid added.
The Foreign Office has previously said that any new sanctions on Russia would be linked directly to Russia’s agitation over Ukraine, as well as Kremlin-linked organisations and businesses of “economic and strategic significance” to the Russian government.
This includes their owners, directors and trustees.
Russia has vowed to retaliate if new sanctions are imposed by the UK.
Mr Javid also urged any British citizens remaining in Ukraine to leave the country while commercial flights are still available.
Labour promised their “full support” for new UK sanctions on Russia.
“This is clearly a blatant breach of international law and it’s a dangerous escalation,” shadow defence secretary John Healey told Sky News.
“It must be met with immediate sanctions. If the UK government introduce these sanctions this afternoon in the House of Commons it will have Labour’s full support.
“But it’s important also that our sanctions and our actions now to confront Russian aggression are taken in unity with NATO allies and the EU.”
Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, the chair of the House of Commons defence committee, said there was a “requirement” for the UK to move towards supplying Ukraine with offensive weaponry.
“We need to recognise that we have a duty to our Ukrainian friends, NATO needs to remind itself what it says on the tin; it is European security,” he told Sky News.
“We cannot part what happens in Ukraine, outside the NATO family, and just watch what happens.”