oris Johnson said the UK will “imminently” level personal sanctions against Vladimir Putin as Russian troops were on Friday attacking Ukraine’s capital Kyiv.
The Prime Minister told Nato leaders in a virtual meeting that the UK would echo measures announced by the EU to target the Russian president and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
It came as Moscow forces advanced towards the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and as Nato general secretary Jens Stoltenberg said leaders have agreed to send rapid response troops to protect allies near Russia and Ukraine.
UK Chief of Defence Intelligence, Lieutenant General Sir Jim Hockenhull said: “Russian forces continue to advance on two axes towards Kyiv. Their objective is to encircle the capital, to secure control of the population and change the regime.”
The “bulk” of Vladimir Putin’s troops advancing on Kyiv were understood to be 30 miles from the Ukrainian capital, but some had already entered northern suburbs of the city, according to local defence sources. Gunfire was heard near the government quarter.
After a barrage of air strikes in the early hours, ground forces were reported to be advancing, with “saboteurs” three miles north of the city centre.
Early this morning, fear spread through Kyiv as sirens warned residents in the city of 2.8 million to rush to air raid shelters.
Shortly before 10am local time, Ukrainian defence sources said Russian forces were in the Obolon district, some six miles from the parliament building.
Ukraine’s defence ministry urged locals to make Molotov cocktails to target the advancing troops. As President Putin pursued his bloody war, the human cost was fast escalating with at least 137 Ukrainian military personnel and civilians, and 450 Russian troops reported to have been killed.
Ukrainian forces were reported to be putting up strong resistance, inflicting heavy losses on the Russian army, but then being hit by overwhelming attacks.
Western officials said Ukrainians were “admirably” fighting for their country and had been able to keep Russian forces at bay in some urban areas.
But they fear that if the Russian army does not meet its invasion timescales as the Ukrainians fight back, Putin will begin to use “indiscriminate violence”.
The Russian president could deploy his devastating thermobaric bombs, launching a barrage of explosive warheads on the opposing army.
Russian military claimed it has taken control of the key strategic airport just outside Kyiv. Taking possession of the Antonov airport in Hostomel, which has a long runway allowing the landing of heavy-lift transport planes, would mean Russia can airlift troops directly to Kyiv’s outskirts. The claims from Russia could not be verified.
Earlier, defence sources said that Russian forces had seized two Ukrainian military vehicles and some uniforms and were heading toward the city to try to infiltrate it.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Kyiv “could well be under siege” in what US officials believe is part of Putin’s plan to topple President Volodymyr Zelensky and install a “puppet” government.
The Ukrainian military reported significant fighting near Ivankiv, about 40 miles north-west of Kyiv.
“The hardest day will be today. The enemy’s plan is to break through with tank columns from the side of Ivankiv and Chernihiv to Kyiv,” said Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko.
Mr Zelensky said he understood Russian troops were coming for him but vowed to stay in the city. “(The) enemy has marked me down as the number one target,” he said in a video message. “My family is the number two target. They want to destroy Ukraine politically by destroying the head of state. I will stay in the capital. My family is also in Ukraine.”
However, if Russians are forced into street-by-street fighting in urban areas their air superiority will be less of an advantage than fighting in open ground. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told LBC Radio: “It’s one thing to drive down a road in a tank, it’s a very different thing to try to take a town or a city, it’s incredibly hard.
“That’s where you get blown up, people use everything from small missiles to tank traps. So I think there will be a sense of ‘let them come into the cities and then whack them’.”
In other developments:
- Boris Johnson spoke to President Zelensky and stressed that the Russian invasion must ultimately fail.
- Russia’s military forces have hit dozens of civilian sites, Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said.
- More Russian tanks were moving from annexed Crimea into the south of Ukraine.
- Ukraine’s Defence Force called for all civilians to join a mass mobilisation regardless of age.
- Mr Wallace said the Russian army had not achieved its aims on the first day of the full invasion yesterday, with special forces having reportedly failed to capture Antonov Airport near the town of Hostomel, 20 miles from Kyiv.
- He told Sky News: “Russia lost more than 450 army personnel on the first day of full -cale war with Ukraine. Our assessment as of this morning is that Russia has not taken any of its major objectives.”
- Britain would like to cut off Russia from the SWIFT global interbank payments system and will continue to lobby reluctant allies to take that step, Mr Wallace made clear.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday repeated the false claims that the Ukrainian government had been committing genocide and banning its population from speaking Russian.
He told reporters: “In the West everything is looked at through your own interests. When you’re not happy with something then you raise your voice but when millions and millions of people in Ukraine are having their rights to the language removed you are not voicing any discontent.”
Tens of thousands of people were fleeing Ukrainian cities, with queues at the border with Poland. Russian troops launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine yesterday, attacking from
Belarus in the north, Russia in the east and annexed Crimea in the south. Missiles targeted sites in and close to the capital at around 4am local time today, with other cities also coming under air attack.
Ukrainian air defence fire was aimed at missiles targeting the capital. Ukrainian Interior Ministry advisor Mr Gerashchenko said: “Air defences of Kyiv shot down missiles fired by the invaders.”
He claimed a Russian war plane was shot down in the Darnytskyi district, near a house. These claims could not be confirmed. The UN Security Council was to vote today on a draft resolution that would condemn Russia’s invasion and require Moscow’s immediate withdrawal. However, Moscow can veto the measure.
Putin falsely says Russia is carrying out “a special military operation” to stop the Ukrainian government committing genocide — a claim the West rejects.