There is a risk of a “new Cold War” and that “a new Iron Curtain will descend upon Europe”, the Defence Secretary has warned.
Ben Wallace said Russian President Vladimir Putin was “playing with fire” by attacking the Zaporizhzhia nuclear site in Ukraine – a move Western officials deemed unprecedented.
Officials said the site was now likely to be under Russian control but with Ukrainian staff still on the ground to maintain safety.
Speaking at a press conference in Copenhagen, Mr Wallace said the move was “incredibly dangerous”.
“It’s not just dangerous for Ukraine and Russia, it’s dangerous for Europe, and it is playing with fire that really is beyond anything that has to do with logic or necessity,” he said.
The attack was being discussed on Friday at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson had called for in the early hours of the morning following a conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The UK’s permanent representative to the UN said Russia “must keep fighting away from and protect the safety and security of nuclear sites”.
Dame Barbara Woodward said: “This is the first time that a state has attacked a fuelled and functioning nuclear power plant.
“International law requires special protection for nuclear facilities and it is difficult to see how Russia’s actions were compatible with its commitments under Article 56 of the additional protocol of the (Geneva) Conventions. It must not happen again.”
It comes as the isolation of Russia and its people from the rest of the world continued, with the BBC announcing it would “temporarily suspend” the work of all its journalists and support staff in the country after authorities passed legislation which director-general Tim Davie said appeared to “criminalise the process of independent journalism”.
Russia’s Duma passed laws that meant anyone spreading “fake” – in the Kremlin’s view – information about the military could be jailed for up to 15 years.
Reports have suggested Russia’s media regulator has blocked independent news sources such as the BBC, and the broadcaster has distributed information on how to access its services on the dark web.
Mr Davie said: “This legislation appears to criminalise the process of independent journalism.”
He added: “Our BBC News service in Russian will continue to operate from outside Russia.”
Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba called on the media to “spread the truth about Russia’s crimes against Ukraine”.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police’s War Crimes Team is gathering evidence in relation to alleged war crimes in Ukraine to support the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation, the force said.
In a video clip posted on his Twitter account on Friday evening, the Prime Minister addressed Ukrainians directly and said he was “heartsick at the destruction and loss of life”.
He added: “Putin has made a grave miscalculation. The free world is united in its resolve to stand up to his barbarism, and the fortitude and defiance of the Ukrainian people in the face of this unjust and unwarranted aggression is moving hearts around the world.
“I’ve spoken almost every day to President Volodymyr Zelensky, and I marvelled at his bravery, his calm, his sense of purpose, just as I marvel at the heroism and resolve of the Ukrainian people.
“And I know that however long it takes, however arduous, Putin must fail. Our thoughts and our sympathies are with the whole of Ukraine in its battle for freedom.”
Earlier, Mr Wallace warned that the shared values of the West were “under threat” from Mr Putin and his invasion of Ukraine.
Speaking in Denmark, where he was visiting allies in the UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), the Defence Secretary said the Russian leader was “bombarding, ordering the killing, invasion of a sovereign country for simply having the nerve to choose a different future for itself”.
He added: “Now is the time for us to stand together in common values and in determination, both in soft and hard power.”
Western officials said on Friday that Ukraine continued to hold the majority of the country’s main cities, but over the last 24 hours there had been a high level of air and artillery attacks, including those hitting civilian sites.
They believe the resistance of the Ukrainians was having a psychological impact on Russian troops, and the lack of progress made by the Kremlin’s forces had forced senior commanders into the front of the battle, resulting in some being killed.
It comes as the Home Secretary met Ukrainian refugees who are due to apply to join family members in the UK under an expanded scheme.
Priti Patel met with families, women, and children on the Polish border in Medyka as she confirmed the immediate and extended family members of British nationals and people settled in the UK could stay in the country for three years.
The scheme applies to immediate family as well as parents, grandparents, adult children and foster children, and application centres have been bolstered to be able to handle 6,000 appointments a week.
Ms Patel said: “It’s heartbreaking to have met families, women and children forced from their homeland because of the monstrous Russian invasion.
“Our expanded Ukraine Family Scheme is now fully open and to see the first people who will apply was wonderful. While we want people to be able to return to their homes at the end of this diabolical invasion, giving thousands of people a route to the UK is the right thing to do.”
Mr Johnson, meanwhile, has been continuing to speak to foreign leaders about the crisis.
The Prime Minister agreed with Turkish President Recep Erdogan that there must be “total international condemnation of Russia’s barbaric actions”, a Downing Street spokesperson said.
He also spoke with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday.
Published: 05/03/2022 by Radio NewsHub