The Ukraine conflict could last “a number of years” and the UK needs to be “prepared for a very long haul” in facing down Russian aggression, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has told Sky News.
Speaking to the Trevor Phillips On Sunday show, Ms Truss praised the “very, very strong and brave” Ukrainian resistance against Russian forces moving through their country as the invasion continues into a fourth day.
“This could be a number of years because what we do know is Russia has strong forces,” she said.
“But we know that the Ukrainians are brave, they’re determined to stand up for their sovereignty and territorial integrity, and they’re determined to fight.”
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The foreign secretary warned that Western sanctions on Moscow “will take time to have an effect and debilitate the Russian economy”.
“This is not going to be, I fear, over quickly,” she added. “We need to be prepared for a very long haul.”
‘Heavy’ fighting in Ukraine’s second city
In an intelligence update on Sunday morning, the Ministry of Defence said Russian forces were continuing to advance into Ukraine via “multiple” routes, but were still being met with “stiff resistance” from the Ukrainian military.
The MoD said there had been fighting within Ukrainian capital Kyiv for a second night in a row but “at a lower intensity that the previous evening”.
They added that Russian forces were now bypassing Chernihiv, a city 150km to the north west of Kyiv, after “encountering strong resistance” and in order to “prioritise the encirclement and isolation” of Ukraine’s capital.
There has also been “intensive exchanges of rocket artillery” overnight followed by “heavy fighting” in Ukraine’s second city Kharkiv, the MoD said.
Putin could use ‘most unsavoury means’
In her Sky News interview, Ms Truss expressed her fear that fighting in Ukraine could be “very, very bloody” as she was asked about Russia’s arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
There are concerns among Western officials that Russia could soon deploy themobaric weapons against its neighbour.
The so-called “vacuum bombs” suck in oxygen to create powerful, high-temperature explosions which can damage internal organs.
“We do need to be prepared for Russia to seek to use even worse weapons,” the foreign secretary said.
She also suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin could use “the most unsavoury means” as the cost of the conflict racks up.
“We’ve already seen the response from the Russian government, we’ve seen the actions taken despite all the warnings about the severe cost of this conflict – in terms of humanitarian costs, in terms of costs for the Russian state,” she said.
“This could well be the beginning of the end for Putin and I fear that he is determined to use the most unsavoury means in this war.
“But he should be aware the International Criminal Court is already looking at what is happening in Ukraine and there will be serious consequences for him personally and for the Russian government.”
Truss warns of Russia-NATO conflict
Ms Truss warned, if Mr Putin was not stopped in Ukraine, there could be a conflict between Russia and NATO countries.
“This long-running conflict is about freedom and democracy in Europe,” she said.
“If we don’t stop Putin in Ukraine we are going to see others under threat – the Baltics, Poland, Moldova, and it could end up in a conflict with NATO.
“We do not want to go there.”
According to the Kremlin, Russia has sent a delegation to Belarus for peace talks with Ukraine.
But Ms Truss rejected any suggestion that negotiations could go ahead until Russian troops had withdrawn back over the border.
“If the Russians are serious about negotiations, they need to remove their troops from Ukraine,” she said.
“They cannot negotiate with a gun to the head of the Ukrainians.”
Ms Truss said the government was “looking at what more we can do” to welcome Ukrainian refugees to Britain, as the United Nations estimated that 368,000 people have fled Ukraine following the conflict with Russia.
The Ukrainian government has announced it is establishing an “international legion” for foreigners wishing to travel to the country to help fight against Russian invaders.
Foreign secretary supports Britons joining Ukraine’s ‘foreign legion’
Speaking later to the BBC, Ms Truss said she would support British nationals who chose to go and fight alongside Ukrainian forces.
“That is something people can make their own decisions about,” she said.
“The people of Ukraine are fighting for freedom and democracy, not just for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe.
“Absolutely, if people want to support that struggle I would support them in doing that.”