Ukraine latest news as Boris Johnson targets Putin’s ‘private army’ amid plea to allies

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Russia is being hit with more sanctions, with Boris Johnson targeting the paramilitary Wagner Group – seen as Vladimir Putin’s private army. The Prime Minister has urged allies to “step up” their support against the invasion of Ukraine.

It comes as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has called for worldwide demonstrations against the Russian invasion, a month after the country launched its attack. An emergency Nato summit will be held in Brussels on Thursday (March 24) where Mr Zelensky will remotely address world leaders.

Mr Johnson will use the summit to commit to a new package of measures, including 6,000 more missiles to help fight the Russian President’s forces. The meeting is expected to sign off on the formation of four new battlegroups in eastern Europe, adding thousands more troops.

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Speaking to broadcasters after landing in Belgium’s capital, Mr Johnson said: “Vladimir Putin is plainly determined to double down on his path of violence and aggression. Describing Mr Putin’s treatment of Ukrainians as “absolutely brutal”, he added: “We’ve got to step up. We’ve got to increase our support.

“We’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today, as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group, looking at what we can do to stop Putin using his gold reserves, and also doing more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.”

The Foreign Office said it was sanctioning 65 more entities and individuals, including Russian billionaire Eugene Shvidler and Galina Danilchenko, who was installed by Moscow as the mayor of occupied Melitopol in south-east Ukraine. Six more banks were among those being sanctioned with asset freezes and travel bans, as was one of the world’s largest diamond producer Alrosa, and Polina Kovaleva, the stepdaughter of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

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The Wagner Group plans to assassinate Mr Zelensky as his forces continue to put up a far stronger resistance than many anticipated, it has been warned. Western officials had expected to be supporting a Ukrainian insurgency at this point in the war, rather than the nation’s army, which is holding up.

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Mr Johnson said: “We’re moving, really, from a program of supporting resistance to supporting the Ukrainian defense of their own country.” Praising him as “one of the most extraordinary war leaders of recent times”, Mr Johnson said Mr Zelensky wants tighter sanctions on Mr Putin’s regime and “very specific defensive military support” for his armed forces. “And that, we’re determined to provide,” Mr Johnson said.

He also hit out at Moscow’s bid to host Euro 2028, saying Russia should withdraw its forces and the football tournament should be handed to Ukraine. Meanwhile Nato has refused Ukrainian demands for a no-fly zone to be imposed over the nation out of fears it would drag the West into a direct conflict with Russia.

An estimated 100,000 people remain trapped with chronic shortages of food and clean drinking water in the besieged city of Mariupol. In a call with Mr Zelensky on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said the bombardment of civilian areas in the city was “unconscionable” and demanded a response from the international community.

Britain has already sent more than 4,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, including next-generation light anti-tank weapons systems (Nlaws) and Javelin missiles. It is also supplying and training Ukrainian troops in the use of Starstreak high-velocity anti-air missiles as well as providing body armor, helmets and combat boots.

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The Government will provide an additional £4.1 million to the BBC World Service to counter disinformation in Russia and Ukraine as well as new support for the International Criminal Court (ICC).

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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