The UK is set to provide tens of millions of pounds in an attempt to shore up democracy in Ukraine and reduce the country’s reliance on Russian energy as Boris Johnson held out hope he could defuse tensions on the country’s border.
The Prime Minister will travel to Kyiv on Tuesday as tensions remained at a fever pitch between the Kremlin and the former Soviet state.
Mr Johnson had been due to speak to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin on Monday, but a time could not be agreed after the PM’s defense of his leadership and the partygate saga took up a hefty chunk of his day.
No 10 said there had been no “settled time” for the call and that they were still hoping to arrange a time with the Kremlin for the two men to speak.
But Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the delayed call showed there were “real-world consequences” of having a prime minister fighting for his political survival.
He said: “The situation in Ukraine is immensely serious. We want diplomacy to succeed.
“This crisis requires the attention of a focused Prime Minister, but the Boris Johnson is playing catch up and the government is in disarray. Yesterday I missed a call with Putin because he was in Parliament defending the indefensible.”
Mr Johnson will meet with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky as he pledged £88 million of new funding to support the country.
The cash – part of the UK’s Good Governance Fund – will help “support stable governance and energy independence”, by supporting transparency and anti-corruption initiatives and efforts to reduce Ukraine’s reliance on Russian energy supplies.
Ahead of the visit, Mr Johnson said: “It is the right of every Ukrainian to determine how they are governed. As a friend and a democratic partner, the UK will continue to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of those who seek to destroy it.
“We urge Russia to step back and engage in dialogue to find a diplomatic resolution and avoid further bloodshed.”
It comes as the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee launched a new inquiry on the “dirty money” associated with corruption.
Committee chairman and Tory MP Tom Tugendhat said the Government had “done little to address these dangers” and added: “Today, illicit finance and corruption are closer to home and now there are new threats to contend with.
“Dirty money is allowed to move beyond the reach of law enforcement and challenge the capabilities of regulators around the world.”
He added: “As a global financial centre, the UK is in a unique position to act and to protect against threats to the rules-based international order. Russia’s intimidation of Ukraine, and the pressure The Kremlin is putting on other European states, makes it clear we must act.”
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced plans for legislation with new powers to sanction individuals and businesses linked to the Russian state and she said those sharing responsibility for the Kremlin’s “aggressive, destabilizing action” could have their assets in the UK frozen.
“We will be able to target any company that is linked to the Russian state, engages in business of economic significance to the Russian state or operates in a sector of strategic significance to the Russian state,” she told MPs.
In the Commons, Mr Tugendhat said: “The need to clean up the dirty money in our economy is not just about doing the right thing and standing up alongside the people of Ukraine, it is about standing up for the British people, defending ourselves against the corruption that flows through our system, making sure that our houses are homes and not being exploited to pay murderers on behalf of a dictator.
“The strongest thing we can do to defend Ukraine is to defend ourselves against filth and corruption in our city.”
Ms Truss replied: “As I have said, we will be bringing forward the Economic Crime Bill to add to the work we are already doing to tackle illicit finance.”
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said he was engaged in “non-stop diplomacy” to try and dial down the threat on the Ukrainian border.
He said: “I had productive talks last week with President Zelensky and continue to be engaged in nonstop diplomacy and deescalate tension and to improve security of our ally and all of Europe.”
After Mr Johnson’s call with Mr Putin was delayed, French President Emmanuel Macron instead spoke to the Russian leader for the second time in four days.
While Mr Johnson is expected to discuss a “full range of strategic UK support” with Mr Zelensky.
He was due to be joined on the trip by Ms Truss, but she will not be traveling after testing positive for Covid on Monday evening.
The UK is expected to bolster military presence in eastern Europe as part of Nato’s efforts to secure the region.
But British and Nato combat forces are not expected to be deployed in Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance.
Around 100 British personnel are involved in a training mission in the country, and Downing Street said that since 2015, British Armed Forces had trained more than 22,000 Ukrainian troops.
Russia has more than 100,000 troops massed on the border fueling Western fears that Moscow is preparing an invasion of its southern neighbour.
Mr Putin has denied he is planning an attack but is demanding guarantees Ukraine will never join Nato, while calling on the Western alliance to draw back its forces in eastern Europe.