Boris Johnson and other western leaders condemned the “appalling” Russian missile attack on a shopping centre in Ukraine feared to have left scores of civilians dead or wounded.
Two Russian missiles struck the shopping complex in the city of Kremenchuk, southeast of Kyiv, on Monday killing at least 10 people and wounding 40, senior Ukrainian officials said.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky – who had earlier urged G7 leaders to provide more weapons to help his military pushback against Vladimir Putin’s forces – described the toll of the attack as “unimaginable” and cited reports that more than 1,000 people were inside.
The UN condemned the attack as “deplorable”, while Mr Johnson said it showed “the depths of cruelty and barbarism to which the Russian leader will sink”.
It comes as British troops are set to be part of a massive expansion of Nato forces aimed at boosting defences on the alliance’s flank in Eastern Europe in response to the ongoing Russian attacks.
Nato will hugely increase the number of troops placed on “high readiness” in its rapid response force from 40,000 to over 300,000, secretary general Jens Stoltenberg announced on Monday.
The Independent understands that the UK will boost the number of troops committed to Nato’s response force, though British units will be part of a “high alert” standby force rather than deployed immediately to eastern Europe.
Mr Johnson’s spokesman said there would be further talks on British involvement at the Nato summit in Madrid on Wednesday. “Obviously we’re one of the largest contributions to [Nato] … there will be further discussions at the summit itself.”
Mr Stoltenberg indicated that a radically expanded response force would see Nato partners such as the UK, UK and France pledge more troops, ships and warplanes to be ready to deploy to territories on the alliance’s eastern borders.
Mr Stoltenberg said the surge to 300,000 troops would help Nato “significantly reinforce” its defences in eastern Europe, with more battlegroups set to be deployed in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia.
“These troops will exercise together,” Mr Stoltenberg said. “And they will become familiar with local terrain, facilities, and our new pre-positioned stocks. So that they can respond smoothly and swiftly to any emergency.”
Nato battlegroups are already active in several countries on Russia’s border, including Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia. About 8,000 British troops have been taking part in exercises across Eastern European countries since April.
The Nato chief said the shake-up set to be finalised this week was part of the “biggest overhaul of collective defence and deterrence since the Cold War”.
Meanwhile, Mr Zelensky told G7 leaders on Monday that he wants the war with Vladimir Putin’s forces over by the end of 2022, telling allies not to let the conflict “drag on” through the winter.
But in a sign that he was not willing to accept a peace deal that gave up swathes of Ukraine, the president said he would “only negotiate from a position of strength” as he urged allies to provide more military support.
Mr Zelensky said he was focused on securing an “advantageous position” in a matter of months rather than years as part of pushback against Russian forces, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said after the session.
The G7 released a statement after discussions with Mr Zelensky saying it would continue to provide financial, military and political support for Ukraine “for as long as it takes”.
Mr Johnson’s team had been keen to see language in the statement about a long-term commitment to Ukraine amid fears France and other countries were suffering from “fatigue”.
French president Macron was criticised for negotiating with Mr Putin at the start of the invasion and saying Russia must not be “humiliated”, raising fears Ukraine could be pushed into giving up territory.
But a French official said Mr Zelensky had indicated he wanted to negotiate an end to the war – so long as he can gain a stronger military position.
“His goal is to end the war as quickly as possible and to get out of it in the best possible position, so that he can negotiate from a position of strength,” the diplomat told Reuters. “He will negotiate when he will be in a position to do so.”
The G7 is also expected to agree plans for a price cap on Russian oil during the three-day G7 summit in the German Alps. One US official said on Monday that a deal was “close”.
The details of how a price cap would work, as well as its impact on the Russian economy, are to be resolved by G7 finance ministers in the coming months, according to the official.
President Joe Biden is also set to announce the purchase of an advanced surface-to-air missile system for Ukraine. The US is reportedly purchasing Nasams, a Norwegian-developed system, to provide medium to long-range defence.
Meanwhile, the UK has not ruled out boycotting a major international summit if Putin attends. Mr Johnson believes Russia should be “excluded diplomatically”, the PM’s official spokesman said.