Boris Johnson has insisted no Nato allies are contemplating heeding Ukraine’s pleas to enforce a no-fly zone over the nation to prevent bombings from Vladimir Putin’s planes.
The Prime Minister again rejected Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky’s calls for British forces to actively join the effort, warning it would trigger a wider war with Russia.
With the invasion of Ukraine in its sixth day, Mr Johnson visited Nato members Poland and Estonia to shore up support for the defence alliance.
But he ruled out British forces fighting in Ukraine, as he faced impassioned calls for a no-fly zone to be imposed to protect civilians as a major assault on Kyiv was feared to be nearing.
Mr Johnson clarified that the UK is not actively supporting British nationals volunteering to help the defence of Ukraine, contradicting an earlier remark from Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
“I think for any Nato member to get involved actively in conflict with Russia is a huge step which is not being contemplated by any member,” Mr Johnson stressed during a press conference against the backdrop of armoured vehicles, at the Tapa military base in Estonia.
“This is a time when miscalculation and misunderstanding is all too possible and it’s therefore crucial that we get that message over.
“When it comes to a no-fly zone in the skies above Ukraine we have to accept the reality that that involves shooting down Russian planes … that’s a very, very big step, it’s simply not on the agenda of any Nato country.
“We will not fight Russian forces in Ukraine,” he added. “Our reinforcements like these reinforcements here in Tapa are firmly within the borders of Nato members.”
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg warned that a vast column of “heavy Russian armour” moving towards Kyiv would bring “more death, more suffering and more civilian casualties”, as he stressed the need for heavy sanctions.
Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas said troops from Kremlin-ally Belarus had entered Ukraine, adding: “There’s no doubt Belarus is a co-aggressor in this conflict.”
In an earlier visit to Warsaw, Poland, a Ukrainian journalist who fled over the border made an impassioned plea for Mr Johnson to assist with a no-fly zone.
Daria Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre civil society organisation, said: “Nato is not willing to defend because Nato is afraid of World War Three, but it’s already started and it’s Ukrainian children who are there taking the hit.”
Mr Johnson apologised as he ruled out the move, having blamed Mr Putin’s regime for “barbaric and indiscriminate” violence against Ukrainian citizens.
The Prime Minister said evidence of Mr Putin’s attacks on civilians could be used in a future trial at the International Criminal Court.
Mr Johnson committed to doing more to allow Ukrainians to come to the UK, with around 200,000 eligible under an expanded route for people to bring family members in.
“What we are going to do is we are extending the family scheme so that actually very considerable numbers would be eligible … you could be talking about a couple of hundred thousand, maybe more,” he said.
“Additionally, we are going to have a humanitarian scheme and then a scheme by which UK companies and citizens can sponsor individual Ukrainians to come to the UK.”
While the Prime Minister was in the air on the way back to Britain, the UK Government announced a further £80 million in aid for Ukraine.
The funding will be used to save lives, protect vulnerable people inside the country and in the wider region, and to tackle the growing humanitarian crisis, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) announced.
The department said it takes the UK’s overall aid support during the current crisis to £220 million.
The FCDO also announced an additional economic strike will be applied against the Russian Central Bank and the state’s sovereign wealth fund in a sanction – being applied in partnership with the US and EU – that is designed to prevent Russia from using foreign reserves in ways that could allow it to lessen the financial impact of global measures on its economy.
Satellite images showed the extent of the Russian forces massing around Kyiv, with a column of armoured vehicles, tanks, artillery and support vehicles stretching 40 miles.
That force was 17 miles from the capital on Monday.
Ukraine has already accused Moscow of war crimes by bombarding civilian areas in the second city of Kharkiv.
But Western leaders fear that the Russian president could order more “barbaric” tactics, with intelligence suggesting the advance on Kyiv has made little progress, probably due to logistical problems.
Meanwhile, there was a mass walkout of diplomats from the UN Human Rights Council when a speech from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov began.
UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Mr Lavrov’s statement was “full of disinformation” and did not deserve the attention of other members.
“Russia is isolated and should be ashamed to sit in the UN chamber,” she said.
During her own speech to the Geneva meeting, Ms Truss said: “Putin is responsible for civilian casualties and over 500,000 people fleeing with the numbers still rising fast. The blood is on Putin’s hands – not just of innocent Ukrainians, but the men he has sent to die.”