Vladimir Putin is in “a total panic” about a revolution in Moscow which is why he is trying “so brutally to snuff out the flame of freedom in Ukraine”, Boris Johnson has said.
Condemning the “vicious and a barbarian attack on innocent civilians”, the prime minister drew a direct comparison with the actions of the Nazis under Adolf Hitler in the 1940s.
He also warned the Russian president would not stop at Ukraine and a Kremlin victory would usher in the “beginning of a new age of intimidation across the whole of eastern Europe”.
And it would give “the green light for autocrats everywhere”, he added.
The Conservative leader issued the caution during a typically forthright, bombastic speech to his party’s spring conference in Blackpool, watched on by the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko.
• Fighting has reached the city centre in besieged Mariupol, where an estimated 1,300 people remain trapped under rubble following an airstrike on a theatre
• Russia fires ‘hypersonic missile for first time’ at Ukraine as Mr Putin is accused of using peace talks as a “smokescreen”
• The Home Office says 8,600 visas have been granted under the family scheme for Ukrainians fleeing the war
• Three Russian cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station wearing bright yellow and blue – the colours of the Ukrainian flag
• A total of 112 children have been killed during the war, according to Ukraine
Mr Johnson told Tory activists: “A tragedy continues to unfold in our European continent, a vicious and a barbarian attack on innocent civilians, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1940s.
“With every day that Ukraine’s heroic resistance continues, it is clear that Putin has made a catastrophic mistake.
“And you have to ask yourself why he did it. Why did he decide to invade this totally innocent country?”
Dismissing the relationship with NATO as the cause of aggression, Mr Johnson said: “I think he was frightened of Ukraine for an entirely different reason.
“He was frightened of Ukraine, because in Ukraine, they have a free press and in Ukraine, they have free elections, and with every year that Ukraine progressed… he feared the Ukrainian example.
“And he feared the implicit reproach to himself because in Putin’s Russia, you get jailed for 15 years, just calling invasion, an invasion.
“And if you stand against Putin in an election, you get poisoned, or shot.
“It’s precisely because Ukraine and Russia have been so historically close, that he has been terrified of the effect of that Ukrainian model on him and on Russia.
“He has been in a total panic about the so-called colour revolution in Moscow itself, and that’s why he’s trying so brutally to snuff out the flame of freedom in Ukraine.
“That’s why it is so vital that he fails, because a victorious Putin will not stop in Ukraine and the end of freedom in Ukraine will mean the extinction of any hope of freedom in Georgia and then Moldova, it’ll mean the beginning of a new age of intimidation across the whole of eastern Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
“If Putin succeeds in crushing Ukraine, it will be the green light for autocrats everywhere in the Middle East, in the Far East.
“This is a turning point for the world. It’s a moment of choice.
“It’s a choice between freedom and oppression.”
He added: “I don’t believe that democratic freedoms are going to sprout anytime soon in the Kremlin.
“But with every day that passes, I think that Putin becomes a more glaring advertisement for the system that he hates, and despises and it becomes ever more obvious why we have to stick up for Ukraine and we will.
“That’s why we will continue with absolute conviction to stick up for freedom under the law, freedom under the law at home and abroad, even if it means making some tough decisions.”