Vladimir Putin has warned of a “lightning-fast” retaliation if countries intervened in Ukraine as Britain pressed for Moscow to be so weakened militarily by its war that the Russian president can never pose a threat to European security.
The Russian president told lawmakers in St Petersburg on Wednesday the west wanted to cut Russia into pieces and accused it of pushing Ukraine into conflict with Moscow. “If someone intends to intervene in the ongoing events from the outside, and create strategic threats for Russia that are unacceptable to us, they should know that our retaliatory strikes will be lightning-fast,” said Putin.
“We have all the tools for this, things no one else can boast of having now. And we will not boast, we will use them if necessary. And I want everyone to know that.”
His comments came as British foreign secretary Liz Truss called for a “doubling down” on support for Ukraine in a speech on Wednesday night, including further supplies of heavy weapons, and for allies to push for Russian forces to entirely leave Ukraine’s territory, with the country reverting to its pre-2014 borders.
In reference to Russian-occupied areas in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, she said: “We are going to keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.” There has been speculation that Ukraine would settle for a return to the pre-invasion status quo where territory was ceded to de facto Russian-backed separatists.
She called Putin “a desperate rogue operator with no interest in international norms”.
“Some argue we shouldn’t provide heavy weapons for fear of provoking something worse. But my view, is that inaction would be the greatest provocation. This is a time for courage not for caution,” she said, admitting that more should have been done to deter an invasion.
Truss warned Putin that the west would come to the defence of Moldova in the same way as it is defending Ukraine if Russia mounted an attack there, as seems possible. She said the UK was digging deep into its inventories, including heavy weapons, tanks and aeroplanes, to defend Ukraine and other countries threatened by Russia.
She also said future Russian access to the global economy “will depend on playing by the rules. There can be no more free passes”.
In other developments:
The United Nations secretary general, António Guterres, has arrived in Ukraine after meeting Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow. Guterres will meet the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on Thursday.
Russia warned other EU customers may be cut off from its natural gas supplies if they refuse to pay in roubles. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov’s comments came after Russia halted gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, a move that European leaders and Zelenskiy denounced as “blackmail”.
The damage bill from the war has reached $600bn, Zelenskiy said in a video address on Wednesday night. “More than 32m square metres of living space, more than 1,500 educational facilities and more than 350 medical facilities have been destroyed or damaged,” he said. “About 2,500km of roads and almost 300 bridges have been ruined or damaged.”
A series of explosions were heard near a TV tower in the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian city of Kherson on Wednesday night, temporarily knocking Russian channels off the air, Ukrainian and Russian news organisations reported. RIA Novosti said the broadcast later resumed. Russian channels began broadcasting from Kherson last week, it reported.
The G7 group of industrialised nations is examining whether it could reimpose the current punitive economic sanctions if Russia tries to renege on a hypothetical future peace deal imposed by western allies.
Britain has long said the war must end with Putin being seen to fail, but the containment terms being proposed by western officials include a permanent weakening of the Russian military forces so they can no longer pose a threat to eastern Europe, as well as Russia pulling out of all territory it has occupied, including Crimea, which it annexed in 2014.
Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, this week in Germany hinted at the thinking by saying the US wanted the war to end with Russia so weakened it could not repeat its attack on Ukraine.
British thinking reflects a growing confidence that the political, economic and military forces ranged against Putin can, in the long term, lead to his complete defeat. London also detects a change of mood in Washington – and to a lesser extent, Berlin – including a greater willingness to supply weaponry to Nato standards rather than hand-downs from old Warsaw Pact armoury.
Britain envisages the security guarantees to Kyiv would largely consist of a commitment to arm Ukraine enough that Russia would not mount an attack. Britain does not favour a Nato-style commitment that Ukraine’s allies would intervene to protect Ukraine if it was threatened by Russia.
Critics will say very tough settlement demands run the risk of forcing Putin into a corner so that he threatens the use of tactical weapons. But the Russian leader has already threatened to use nuclear weapons if red lines were crossed.
In her speech, Truss also set out a warning to China claiming its rise will not be inevitable if it ignores the rules. Explaining that China is not impervious to western economic pressure, she said China needs to trade with the G7 since it represents around half of the global economy.