PM eyes Putin’s gold as a target – as he compares Zelenskyy to Churchill for giving Ukraine its ‘roar’

Britain and its Western allies will increase the economic pressure on Russia and are looking to see if more can be done to “shorten” the war in Ukraine such as preventing President Vladimir Putin from accessing his gold reserves, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said.

Speaking ahead of a NATO meeting in Brussels, he said the Russian leader had already crossed a “red line” with his “barbarism” and indiscriminate tactics against innocent civilians in Ukraine and that he should appear before the International Criminal Court.

“We need to do more,” he told LBC radio. “And so we need to do more economically. Can we do more to stop him using his gold reserves for instance, in addition to his cash reserves?

“The more pressure we apply now, particularly on things like gold, that I believe the more we can shorten the war.”

He also compared Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Winston Churchill – who led Britain to victory during World War Two – for having given the Ukrainian people “their roar”.

Mr Johnson said the leader “has been absolutely brilliant… a remarkable figure” in mobilising global support for Ukraine.

“He knows, as Churchill said of himself, he may not have been the lion but he’s been privileged to give the roar. It’s the Ukrainian people who have been the lion, and he’s expressed their will and their sense of defiance.”

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The prime minister is joining fellow NATO leaders in Brussels for an emergency summit later to discuss bolstering action against Moscow – exactly a month on from the start of the Russian invasion.

Key developments

• Russian troops are still trying to resume offensive operations to capture the cities of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, and Mariupol, according to Ukraine’s armed forces chief of staff
• An estimated 100,000 people remain trapped in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol with no access to food, water, or heating
• Around 4,554 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities through humanitarian corridors on Wednesday, considerably fewer than the previous day
• Russia is moving fresh units close to the Ukrainian border, also calling up soldiers who have recently served in Syria
• A Russian regulator blocked Google News in the country, saying it allows access to fake material about what President Putin has described as a “military operation” in Ukraine

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NATO: ‘Putin has made a huge mistake’

US President Biden to meet NATO, G7, and EU allies to discuss the war in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden will also be there for the NATO summit – joined via video link by the Ukrainian president.

This will be followed by a meeting of the G7 group of nations, and then the European Council – the heads of state or government of the 27 EU member countries – during which talks are likely to focus on further sanctions against Moscow and ways of cutting reliance on Russian gas.

Mr Biden, who has pledged to avoid provoking “World War Three”, will attend all three summits for discussions with allies about the next step in responding to President Putin and his invasion of Ukraine.

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Russian ambassador denies war crimes

Putin has made a ‘big mistake’, says NATO chief

Vladimir Putin has made a “big mistake” and underestimated the “strength and bravery” of the Ukrainian people who with the significant support of its allies are “fighting back the invading Russian army”, NATO’s secretary general has said.

As he arrived for talks, Jens Stoltenberg said there was a “new sense of urgency” about Europe’s defence which is why the presence of NATO troops has been increased on Europe’s eastern flank.

Discussing deploying “four new battle groups” in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia is on the agenda, he said. There are already some 40,000 troops spread from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

But he reiterated that to avoid an escalation of the conflict there would be no NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine or planes in the air as this would heighten the risk of a “fully fledged war between NATO and Russia”.

He stressed the importance of North America and Europe standing together, adding : “We are the strongest alliance in the world and as long as we stand together we are safe.”

The 30-nation military alliance will also agree to send equipment to Ukrainians that could help them defend themselves against Russian biological, chemical and nuclear attacks.

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Drone captures Mariupol devastation

Is the tide turning for Ukraine?

Mr Zelenskyy, who is also expected to address the EU summit via video-link, has failed to get NATO to create a no-fly zone over his country, but many countries have shown their support by imposing sanctions on Russia and donating weapons and aid to Ukraine.

There are signs Ukraine might be starting to turn the tide against the Russian troops, according to British military intelligence, with the UK’s Ministry of Defence suggesting Russian forces are depleted and “have almost certainly suffered thousands of casualties during their invasion of Ukraine”.

“Russia is likely now looking to mobilise its reservist and conscript manpower, as well as private military companies and foreign mercenaries, to replace these considerable losses,” the MoD said in its latest update.

“It is unclear how these groups will integrate into the Russian ground forces in Ukraine and the impact this will have on combat effectiveness.”

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‘Say that Ukraine matters’

‘Ukraine matters’: Make yourselves visible and heard, says Zelenskyy

Russian forces – bogged down by supply problems and low morale among troops – have met an outgunned but determined resistance in the capital Kyiv and other cities.

Moscow – increasingly isolated from the rest of the world through financial sanctions – has accused Kyiv of stalling peace talks by making proposals unacceptable for Russia. Ukraine has said it is willing to negotiate but will not surrender or accept Russian ultimatums.

On Wednesday night, Mr Zelenskyy called on people around the world to stand with Ukraine and against the war on Thursday, a month after the invasion began.

He said: “Come from your offices, your homes, your schools and universities. Come in the name of peace.

“Come with Ukrainian symbols to support Ukraine, to support freedom, to support life. Come to your squares, your streets. Make yourselves visible and heard.

“Say that people matter. Freedom matters. Peace matters. Ukraine matters.”

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