Ukraine can “certainly win” against Russia, Boris Johnson has said, as western allies strengthened their position against the Kremlin by pledging there would be a “very severe response” to any chemical attack launched by Moscow.
Mr Johnson said “the situation for the Ukrainians is grim, miserable”, but he praised “Churchillian” leader Volodymyr Zelensky and said: “I think Ukraine can certainly win.”
In an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight programme, following a day of intense diplomacy with Nato and G7 allies in Brussels, Mr Johnson said: “There’s a sense in which Putin has already failed or lost because I think that he had literally no idea that the Ukrainians were going to mount the resistance that they are and he totally misunderstood what Ukraine is.
“And far from extinguishing Ukraine as a nation, he is solidifying it.”
However, Mr Johnson conceded it would be a challenge to give Mr Zelensky the tanks he has demanded to fight against the Russian invaders.
The Prime Minister said it would “logistically” be “very difficult” to supply the Ukrainian president with the tanks and jets he asked for during the Nato summit on Wednesday.
Mr Johnson said allies would strive to give Mr Zelensky weapons “in the quantity and of the quality” he needs to defend his nation from the Russian invasion.
He pledged more missiles and a new deployment of UK troops to Bulgaria, while doubling personnel in Poland and Estonia to boost Nato on the eastern flanks.
Mr Zelensky pleaded when appearing virtually at the summit in Brussels for “1% of all your plans, 1% of all your tanks”.
Western allies have previously been hesitant about providing jets out of concerns it could further provoke Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mr Johnson accepted Mr Zelensky wanted more from Nato, saying allies felt “agony” about their “inability to do more given the constraints we face”.
Nato leaders agreed on Wednesday that Russia using chemical weapons would mark a “fundamental change” in the Ukrainian conflict that would be met with a “very severe response”.
However, a Western official declined to outline what the response would be saying “we need to keep Putin guessing”.
Later, at a press conference, US President Joe Biden said there would be a “response in kind”, but then added: “We would respond. We would respond if he used it. The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.”
Mr Johnson warned against allowing the threats over chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to become a “distraction”.
He said: “It’s intended to be a distraction from what is really going on and that is a savage attack with conventional means on innocent people in urban centers in Ukraine, absolutely barbaric use of artillery and mortars and rockets as I’ve described, thermobaric bombs included it now seems, that is what is going on.”
However, Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg announced an agreement to provide equipment to protect against biological, chemical and nuclear threats and assistance in the cyber-security sphere.
It came as the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said Russian intelligence services had targeted national infrastructure including UK energy companies and the engineering and industrial sectors in a “calculated and dangerous” hacking campaign spanning nearly a decade.
The UK and western allies have linked Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor agency to the KGB, to “a historic global campaign targeting critical national infrastructure”, the FCDO said on Thursday.
The department said the National Cyber Security Center (NCSC) was “almost certain” that the FSB’s Center 16, which it said was also known by its hacker group pseudonyms of Energetic Bear, Berserk Bear and Crouching Yeti, had targeted critical IT systems and national infrastructure in Europe, the Americas and Asia.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “Russia’s targeting of critical national infrastructure is calculated and dangerous.
“It shows (Vladimir) Putin is prepared to risk lives to sow division and confusion among allies.”
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said he “totally agrees” that Brexit and the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion are not the same.
The Prime Minister had come under criticism for comments where he appeared to compare the UK voting to leave the EU, and the Ukrainian fight against Russia.
Speaking at the Conservative Party spring forum at the weekend, he said it was the “instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom”, with the Brexit vote a “famous recent example”.
But speaking to BBC’s Newsnight program on Thursday, he said: “That was not an analogy that I was making. I’m afraid that was wildly misconstructed.
“I said, I think in the same passage, that there’s been nothing like what we’re seeing in Ukraine since 1945 and it is a horror, and it can’t be compared to anything since 1945.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.