Vladimir Putin would face a “dramatic increased response” from the West if he crosses the “line” of using chemical weapons in Ukraine, a Government minister has said.
Chris Philp, the technology minister, echoed allies’ warnings that the Russian president appears to be fabricating a “false narrative” online in preparation for such a “barbaric” attack.
He promised details of a new humanitarian route for refugees fleeing the invasion to seek sanctuary in the UK in the “very near future” after the scheme was hit by delays.
Downing Street billed the “sponsored” route for Ukrainians without family links to come to the country this week, but Boris Johnson now says it will come on Monday.
Mr Philp told Times Radio: “Clearly the use of chemical weapons, especially in an invasion where there are a very large number of civilians, would be an outrage against humanity.
“So I would say to anybody in Russia thinking about this: do not cross that line, do not inflict any more misery and suffering on the Ukrainian people.
“It will trigger an increased response from the West, there’s a dramatic increased response, there’s no question about that.
“I’m not going to speculate about the form that’s going to take or pre-empt it, but that’s a line that Russian governments should not cross.”
He told Sky News the embassy was “creating a false narrative that Ukrainians are considering using chemical weapons, which is clearly ridiculous and totally untrue”.
Under growing pressure for the Government to do more to help the millions fleeing Ukraine, Mr Philp suggested councils as well as families would be able to welcome in refugees.
“We’re going to be making announcements in the very near future about a scheme for UK local authorities, and indeed UK families, to welcome Ukrainian refugees, we’ve announced that principle and the details of how that scheme works will be laid out in the very near future,” he told Sky News.
The Prime Minister has said Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove will on Monday outline details of the new route.
Officials will match them with offers of free accommodation from sponsoring individuals and organisations, who will be vetted to ensure it is safe and secure.
The Telegraph said those offering housing would have to agree to take the refugees for a minimum period – potentially six months – and demonstrate that they meet appropriate standards.
The move comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel was urged to do more to make it easier for those coming to the UK through the existing family route.
On Thursday, Ms Patel announced that from Tuesday people will be able to apply online for a visa and will no longer have to go to a processing centre to give their biometrics.
It followed criticism that the UK’s response has been painfully slow in the face of the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, with about 2.2 million having fled the country.
However the British Red Cross said the quickest way of fixing the problem would be to remove the requirement for a visa, while the Refugee Council said Ms Patel’s announcement “does not go anywhere near far enough”.
Meanwhile, the Government announced it was sanctioning seven more Russians linked to the Putin regime, including Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the UK and other allies need to keep up the pressure with further measures – including a freeze on all Russian banking assets.
“We must double down and ramp up the global pressure on Putin. We must go further on sanctions to keep tightening the vice,” she said in a speech in Washington.
“We want a situation where they can’t access their funds, they can’t clear their payments, their trade can’t flow, their ships can’t dock and their planes can’t land.”
The Ministry of Defence warned Russia could be re-posturing for a “renewed offensive” in Ukraine, “probably” including assaults on the capital Kyiv.