Boris Johnson has issued a direct appeal to the Russian people to reject President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, which he called a “stain” on their country’s honour.
In a video message posted online, the Prime Minister urged Russians to download VPNs to enable them to circumvent the Kremlin’s media controls and see for themselves the atrocities being committed in their name.
His intervention came after President Volodymyr Zelensky used a dramatic address to the United Nations Security to accuse the Russians of the “most terrible war crimes” since the Second World War.
The Ukrainian leader called for the creation of a special tribunal along the lines of the Nuremberg tribunals used to try leading Nazis to bring those responsible to justice.
The Kremlin responded by claiming images of civilians said to have been killed by Russian soldiers in the town of Bucha were “fake news” having been staged by the Ukrainians themselves.
However, the UK Ministry of Defense said analysis of satellite imagery from March 21 – when the town was still occupied by the Russians – showed at least eight bodies lying in a street.
In his message, Mr Johnson said the “atrocities” committed by Russian forces – including the rape and massacre of innocent civilians – were so shocking that Mr Putin had deliberately sought to hide the truth from his people.
“Your president knows that if you could see what was happening, you would not support his war,” he said.
“He knows that these crimes betray the trust of every Russian mother who proudly waves goodbye to her son as he heads off to join the military.
“And he knows they are a stain on the honor of Russia itself. A stain that will only grow larger and more indelible every day this war continues.”
Mr Johnson said that people only needed a VPN connection to access independent information from around the world.
Speaking in Russian, I added: “Your president stands accused of committing war crimes. But I cannot believe he’s acting in your name”.
Mr Zelensky’s call for a war crimes tribunal was backed by former prime minister Gordon Brown who said President Putin and members of his inner circle could be charged with the crime of aggression.
“I believe he could be indicted very quickly because the evidence is clear about him planning, preparing and executing an invasion,” he told BBC2’s Newsnight.
“It is what we had to do in Rwanda, we had to do it in relation to Liberia. We did it in relation to other countries as well in Yugoslavia.
“You could be putting out an arrest warrant, not just for Putin but for a lot of his inner circle who have been collaborating with him in these deeds.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has reaffirmed her intention to use a two-day meeting of Nato and G7 ministers starting on Wednesday in Brussels to press for further sanctions against Russia.
US officials said they expected to see co-ordinated measures by Western allies including a ban on all new investment in the country.
Other measures are expected to include new restrictions on financial institutions and state-owned enterprises, and sanctions on government officials and their family members.
Following talks in the Polish capital, Warsaw, on Tuesday, Ms Truss said economic actions so far were having a “crippling impact” and “pushing the Russian economy back into the Soviet era”.
She said the West has frozen more than 350 billion US dollars (£266 billion) of “Putin’s war chest”, rendering unavailable over 60% of the regime’s 604 billion US dollars (£459 billion) of foreign currency reserves.
But she said they must do more by cracking down further on Russian banks and “going after industries that are filling Putin’s war chest, like gold, and agreeing a clear timetable to eliminate our imports of Russian oil, coal and gas”.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.