Boris Johnson has condemned Russian president Vladimir Putin’s “hideous and barbaric” invasion of Ukraine.
The prime minister accused the dictator of unleashing an unprovoked “tidal wave of violence” on their neighbours as he vowed to work with other western leaders to defeat the Russian leader.
He was speaking just hours after Putin announced Russia had launched a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
In a televised address from Downing Street, Johnson said: “President Putin of Russia has unleashed war in our European continent. He has attacked a friendly country without any provocation and without any credible excuse
“Innumerable missiles and bombs have been raining down on an entirely innocent population.”
The PM added: “Ukraine is a country that for decades has enjoyed freedom and democracy and the right to choose its own destiny
“We – and the world – cannot allow that freedom just to be snuffed out.
We cannot and will not just look away.”
Johnson said the west would agree “a massive package of economic sanctions designed in time to hobble the Russian economy”.
He went on: “Our mission is clear. Diplomatically, politically, economically – and eventually, militarily – this hideous and barbaric venture of Vladimir Putin must end in failure.”
In a rambling TV address in the early hours of this morning, Putin said his goal was the “demilitarisation” of Ukraine.
Despite the fact that the military action is unprovoked, Putin said the responsibility for any bloodshed would lie with the Ukrainian “regime”.
And in a warning to the west, he said any attempt to interfere with the Russian assault would lead to “consequences they have never seen”.
Putin went on to accuse the US and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining Nato and offer Moscow security guarantees.
Johnson was woken at around 4am to be told about the worrying developments.
He spoke to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky shortly afterwards, before chairing a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee at 7.30am.
In his televised statement, Johnson directly addressed the Russian people when he said: “I cannot believe this is being done in your name or that you really want the pariah status it will bring to the Putin regime.
“And I say to the Ukrainians in this moment of agony - we are with you, we are praying for you and your families and we are on your side.
“And if the months ahead are grim, and the flame of freedom burns low I know that it will blaze bright again in Ukraine.”
The PM said the government “will of course do everything to keep our country safe”.
“We are joined in our outrage by friends and allies around the world,” he said.
“We will work with them – for however long it takes – to ensure that the sovereignty and independence of Ukraine is restored
“Because this act of wanton and reckless aggression is an attack not just on Ukraine
“It is an attack on democracy and freedom in East Europe and around the world.
“This crisis is about the right of a free, sovereign independent European people to choose their own future and that is a right that the UK will always defend.”
The prime minister will update MPs on the latest developments in a statement to the House of Commons at 5pm.
He is also expected to give more details on the package of economic sanctions the UK will impose on Russia.
Opposition parties were also united in their condemnation of Putin’s actions.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the attack on Ukraine was “unprovoked and unjustifiable” and would have “horrendous and tragic consequences that will echo throughout the world and throughout history”.
“There can be no space for equivocation when faced with the evil that Putin has unleashed,” he said. “His actions pose a grave threat to the international order on which we all depend.
“I know people in this country will be feeling worried and uncertain. And I know that Ukrainians and Russians here in the UK will be worrying for friends and family back home. Our hearts are with them today.
“We must now match our rhetoric with action. We must urgently reinforce our Nato allies.
“The hardest possible sanctions must be taken against all those linked to Putin. The influence of Russian money must be extricated from the UK. And those who have for too long turned a blind eye to Russia’s actions must reckon with their own consciences.”
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said “the world must stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine”.