Russia must fail and be seen to fail if it overruns Ukraine using brute force, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday, adding the omens for an imminent disaster at this 11th hour are grim.
Giving a sombre vision of the consequences of invasion – including the loss of thousands of lives and a protracted conflict – he said if Russian president Vladimir Putin invades Ukraine, the “shock will echo across the world”.
In the most hardline speech given to the Munich security conference, Johnson said: “If dialogue fails and Russia chooses to use violence against an innocent and peaceful population in Ukraine, and to disregard the norms of civilised behaviour between states, and to disregard the charter of the UN, then we at this conference should be in doubt that it is in our collective self-interest that Russia should ultimately fail and be seen to fail.”
Johnson warned if Putin invaded “the war would be followed by a long and hideous period of reprisals and revenge and insurgency”, adding: “Russian parents would mourn the loss of young Russian soldiers, who in their way are every bit as innocent as the Ukrainians now bracing themselves for attack.
“After a generation of freedom in Ukraine we are now staring at a generation of bloodshed and misery. I believe Russia would have nothing to gain from this catastrophic adventure, and everything to lose.”
Johnson vowed that if Russia invades, it will no longer be able to raise finance on London’s capital markets. He also promised to open up the Russian dolls of shady corporate entities to find the ultimate beneficiaries within.
“We have to steel ourselves for a protracted crisis and we must together refuse to be worn down,” he said. “What Europe needs is strategic endurance.
“We will open up the Matryoshka dolls of Russian-owned companies and Russian-owned entities to find the ultimate beneficiaries within,” he vowed, in a pledge to clean up so-called “dirty” Russian money in Britain.
Johnson added: “Every time we have visited Ukraine we say we stand foursquare behind them, how hollow, how meaningless, how insulting those words would seem if at the very moment their sovereignty and independence were threatened we looked away.”
The speech was well-received, but Johnson immediately faced questions about his call for unity given the breakaway symbolised by Brexit.
The prime minister said an invasion would be a shock that echoed around the world – including in east Asia and Taiwan – saying the effect will be felt in every domain. The conclusion that would be drawn is that might is right and aggression pays.
He said if Nato’s forces are closer to the Russian border it is because it is a response to Vladimir Putin and the tensions he has created.
“We all agreed legal obligations to protect the security of every country in Europe,” he went on, saying the fall of the Berlin wall was an incredible moment. Countries at the heart of our continent “regained their liberty” and the “sovereign right to control their own destiny and seek their own alliances. We will not abandon the hope and impulse of that era made possible by the courage of millions of Europeans.”
He said the West cannot allow Nato’s open door to be slammed shut.