Boris Johnson has said the UK will “contribute” to any new NATO deployments if Russia invades Ukraine.
The prime minister also told the Commons that Western allies will react “in unison” to any Russian attack on Ukraine by imposing sanctions “heavier than anything we have done before”.
He condemned Moscow for sending more than 100,000 troops to its border with Ukraine – “far bigger than anything Russia has deployed against her before” – and promised the UK and its allies could not “bargain away” the vision of a free Europe.
Mr Johnson said: “If Russia invades Ukraine, we would look to contribute to any new NATO deployments to protect our allies in Europe.”
He mentioned how the UK is leading NATO troops in Estonia and last week supplied anti-armour missiles and a small training team of British troops to Ukraine, where the Army has trained 21,000 Ukrainian troops since 2015.
The PM acknowledged the Met Police’s announcement earlier that they are investigating events in Downing Street and Whitehall that allegedly broke lockdown rules.
But he said he wanted to reassure the country “that I and the whole government are focused 100% on dealing with the people’s priorities, including the UK’s leading role in protecting freedom around the world”.
If Russia attacked Ukraine, he said: “I shudder to contemplate the tragedy that would ensue.
“Ukrainians have every moral and legal right to defend their country and I believe their resistance would be dogged and tenacious, and the bloodshed comparable to the first war in Chechnya, or Bosnia, or any other conflict that Europe has endured since 1945.
“No-one would gain from such a catastrophe.
“Russia would create a wasteland in a country which as she constantly reminds us, is composed of fellow Slavs; and Russia would never be able to call it peace.”
Explainer: What’s going on at Russia-Ukraine border – and where is Moscow hiding its tanks and missiles?
Mr Johnson said the UK has been working with the US and European allies for months to avoid a war, by using dialogue and deterrence in the form of sanctions.
He added that in mid-December he spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin and told him NATO “had no thought of encircling or otherwise threatening his country” but Ukraine “of course enjoys an equal and symmetrical right to that of Russia”.
The PM had a video call on Monday night with the leaders of the US, France, Germany, Poland, Italy, the UN and the EU where he said US President Joe Biden confirmed he is willing to have another meeting with President Putin.
They also agreed to “respond in unison to any Russian attack on Ukraine” by imposing “coordinated and severe sanctions, heavier than anything we have done before against Russia”, he warned.
Mr Johnson also mentioned how some British Embassy staff in Kyiv were withdrawn yesterday but the embassy remains open to provide consular assistance to British nationals in Ukraine.