Attack on UkraineSpeeches

Boris Johnson – 2022 Speech on Ukraine

The speech made by Boris Johnson, the former Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 22 September 2022.

It is now seven months since Vladimir Putin launched his vile, illegal and unprovoked war against an innocent European country. In those seven months, his actions have cost almost as many Russian casualties as were sustained in the whole 10-year Russian invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. If he continues at this rate, it will not be that long before Russian losses in Ukraine exceed American losses in the 20-year Vietnam conflict. And that is before we have counted the Ukrainian losses in the past seven months and the catastrophic suffering that Putin has inflicted on those people: the torture, systematic rape, mass murder and deliberate targeting time after time of apartment blocks, schools, kindergartens and hospitals.

In all those seven months of horror that this modern Moloch has personally unleashed, he has not attained a single one of his objectives in a war that, let us not forget, was meant to be over in days. He has not overturned the Ukrainian Government or captured the capital city. He has not even secured the Donbas—far from it. Instead of coming to terms with the reality of his mistake—I mean his complete misunderstanding of what Ukraine is and what really motivates Ukrainians, which is a simple love of their country—he has decided to double down on disaster. He announced the mobilisation of 300,000 more young Russians, a move that has caused such panic among people about to be fed into the meat grinder of Putin’s warzone that yesterday, in a single day, the price of a one-way air ticket from Moscow to South Africa went up to $50,000.

Those potential conscripts can see that what began as a war to rebuild the Soviet empire has collapsed into a shameful war to save Putin’s face. They have no desire to be sacrificed on the altar of his ego. At the same time, as Members from both Front Benches have pointed out, he is threatening to hold sham referendums in the territories he has occupied and then to defend those territories with every weapon, as he says, in his arsenal, in words that he hopes will make our flesh creep and weaken our resolve. He will fail in that pitiful bluster, because he can see and we can see that he is escalating his rhetoric not because he is strong, as has been said, but because he is weak. He is transparently a problem gambler who takes more risks not because he is winning but because he is now terrified of losing.

Chris Bryant

Putin did exactly the same, of course, in 2014. He held a fake referendum in Crimea and, unfortunately, the will of the west weakened. How do we make sure that people such as Orbán in Hungary and those who are preaching disinformation in Italy do not win the day and that we maintain the united strength of the west?

Boris Johnson

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for his point and I will come directly to what happened in 2014 in just a minute. He should not underestimate the continued unity of the west. That is one of the signal achievements of Vladimir Putin in the past seven months: he has seen a more coherent and unified western alliance, and a stronger NATO perhaps, than at any time in the last 20 years.

Dr Luke Evans

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Boris Johnson

If I may, I will just make some progress, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you wanted me to keep within 10 minutes. I will do my best.

Thanks to the heroism of the Ukrainian armed forces, thanks in part to the weapons we are proud to be offering —I congratulate the Minister for the Armed Forces and Veterans, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) on his description of the work of the UK armed forces and the huge list of weapons we are sending—and thanks, too, to the inspirational leadership of Volodymyr Zelensky, the Russian forces have, in recent days, been expelled from large parts of the north-east of the country around Kharkiv. They are under increasing pressure in Kherson in the south. I have no doubt whatever that the Ukrainians will win, because in the end they have the inestimable moral and psychological advantage of fighting for their country in their country against an enemy that is increasingly demoralised and confused about what they are meant to be doing in that country and what they can hope to achieve.

At this turning point in the war, it is more vital than ever that we have the strategic patience to hold our nerve and ensure that Ukrainians succeed in recapturing their territory right to the borders of 24 February and, if possible, to the pre-2014 boundaries, because that is what international law demands. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is correct: it was our collective failure to insist on upholding international law eight years ago that emboldened Putin to launch his disastrous invasion this year.

If Putin is going to double down on his aggression, we must double down in our defence of the Ukrainians, and we must be prepared to give more military assistance and more economic support, so I welcome warmly the announcements from the Government this week. We must work with our friends and partners, as well as the Ukrainians, to ensure that we provide that country with the long-term assurance they need on their security and defence that we have failed so far to provide in the 31 years since independence.

If anyone has proved the absolute necessity of those guarantees, it is Vladimir Putin and his war. We must close our ears in the months ahead to the absolute rubbish he talks. This is not some nuclear stand-off between NATO and Russia, as he seemed to pretend yesterday; this is a war of aggression by Russia against an innocent neighbour. We are helping with equipment and training, as we might help a neighbour to fight a fire when their house has been attacked by an arsonist. NATO is not engaged in a war against Russia. We are not engaged in a war against Russia, let alone against the Russian people.

By the way, we are not concerned here with regime change in Moscow, as Vladimir Putin egocentrically likes to claim. Whatever politics may hold for Putin may be the subject of an interesting debate, but that is not the issue at stake. There is only one objective: the sovereignty, independence and freedom of the people of Ukraine. That is our objective and we must acknowledge that the months ahead will be tough for Ukraine, Britain and the world.

For all the latest Ukrainian successes, Putin is still the possessor of almost 20% of Ukrainian territory and it may well be time-consuming and costly to winkle him out. I have no doubt that in the hard winter months ahead, with the price of energy continuing to inflict hardship on people in this country and around the world, there will continue to be some who draw the false conclusion that the Ukrainians must be encouraged to do a deal, to trade land for peace, to allow Russian gas to flow to Europe. Even if it were politically possible for Volodymyr Zelensky or any Ukrainian Government to do such a deal—which I very much doubt—there is absolutely no sign that Putin either wants such a compromise or can be trusted to deliver it, because he would continue to remain in position and could invade that country in the future.

As I have told the House many times before, any such deal or compromise would send a signal around the world that violence does pay off, that might is right and that when the going gets tough, the great democracies will not have the stomach to stick up for freedom. That is why we have absolutely no choice but to stay the course and to stay resolute. We should be confident because, with every week that goes by, our position gets stronger and Putin’s position gets weaker.

Although times are tough for families now, we should be in no doubt that this country has the economic muscle not just to help people with the costs of energy caused by Putin’s war, but to provide the long-term resilience of a secure and independent UK supply—including more nuclear, much more wind in the transitional period and more of our own hydrocarbons—to ensure that we are never again vulnerable to Putin’s energy blackmail.

It is a measure of Vladimir Putin’s giant strategic failure that he has not only united the west against him—the strength of that unity is remarkable, and by the way he has encouraged two hitherto neutral countries, Sweden and Finland, to join the NATO alliance, which would have been unthinkable a year ago—but decisively alienated his most valuable western customers from his most important Russian exports, oil and gas, with incalculable consequences for his people’s economic future.

Stephen Kinnock (Aberavon) (Lab)

Further to the right hon. Gentleman’s point about economic resilience, does he think that enough was done during his time as Mayor of London, and indeed during his time in this place, to deal with the issue that London has become a laundromat for dirty Russian money? Does he think that there are lessons to be learned from that period that he can share with the House?

Boris Johnson

I think the whole House will agree that since the invasion on 24 February the UK has led the world in imposing sanctions on Russia and in mobilising diplomatic, political and military support for the Ukrainians. I think that most impartial observers around the world—and I meet a lot of them—believe that if it had not been for the actions of the UK Government, things might have been different. I am delighted to see this Administration continuing with the commitments that we began; the financial commitments in particular are extremely important.

Wera Hobhouse (Bath) (LD)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Boris Johnson

I am just about to conclude.

If it were not for Putin’s inability to see what is really happening—if he were not locked, as it were, in a windowless dungeon surrounded by bodyguards, spies and sycophants in a sort of Lubyanka of the mind—he would see the tragedy that he has unleashed. He would withdraw from Ukraine before he is pushed out—and he is going to be pushed out.

In the past seven months, the sufferings of Ukraine have moved the world; I know that they have moved everybody in this House and in this country. We grieve for the people of Ukraine, and we open our hearts to them as few other countries have done. We know that, thanks to their bravery and sacrifice, their day of freedom is coming. When that day comes, we will rejoice with Ukraine, and that rejoicing will echo around the world. Until that day comes, I am sure that this House and this country will stand in unshakeable support for the people of Ukraine.