Boris Johnson has urged the West to end its “addiction” to Russian energy as he prepares to head to Saudi Arabia to push for increased oil and gas production.
It came as the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) confirmed that, as of 9.30pm on Monday, more than 43,000 households had offered to put up those fleeing the conflict as part of the UK Government’s sponsorship scheme.
A DLUHC spokesman said the total is “continuing to rise”, with offers doubling within a matter of hours.
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister is set to travel to Saudi for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the hope the kingdom can increase its production of oil and gas to make up for a reduced reliance on Russia.
In an article for the Daily Telegraph, Mr Johnson said Western leaders had made a “terrible mistake” by letting President Vladimir Putin “get away with” annexing Crimea in 2014 and subsequently becoming “more dependent” on Russian power sources.
He said the “addiction” to Russian fuel had “emboldened” Mr Putin to bomb civilians during his invasion of Ukraine, while at the same time profiting from soaring global oil and gas prices.
“We cannot go on like this. The world cannot be subject to this continuous blackmail,” said Mr Johnson, whose administration has already announced its plan to phase out importing Russian oil by the end of the year.
“As long as the West is economically dependent on Putin, he will do all he can to exploit that dependence.
“And that is why that dependence must – and will – now end.”
It came as Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krisjanis Karins, whose country shares its eastern border with Russia, told the BBC: “We have to think of all the things we can do in order to stop Putin because if we do not stop Putin he will simply continue in this way, in his fight against the democratic world.”
Stating that Russia produces “virtually nothing else” that the “rest of the world wants to buy”, Mr Johnson argued: “If the world can end its dependence on Russian oil and gas, we can starve him of cash, destroy his strategy and cut him down to size.”
Offering a glimpse of what could be in his British Energy Security Strategy, which is due to be published this month, he said there is a need to press ahead with investment in renewables, including expanding the number of UK offshore wind farms and creating more solar power.
Mr Johnson also said there needs to be a “series of big new bets” on nuclear power to make sure the UK’s energy supply is “no longer at the mercy of bullies like Putin”.
However, the Prime Minister sought to level with the public, warning that diverging from Russian power will be “painful” and that financial assistance offered by Chancellor Rishi Sunak to help with rising bills this year cannot be afforded “for long”.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson will jet to Riyadh in a bid to secure the route to diverging from Moscow energy supplies – but the Prime Minister faced calls to scrap the trip over human rights concerns, particularly after recent reports of a mass execution of Saudi prisoners.
Before his evening flight, he is due to host leaders from the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), an alliance of northern European nations.
Representatives from Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Norway had been expected to dine with Mr Johnson at his Chequers country retreat on Monday night before talks in London on Tuesday.
The latest intelligence update published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Russia is “likely to make further attempts to subvert Ukrainian democracy” amid reports that Moscow is to install its own mayor in the city of Melitpol following the alleged abduction of his predecessor.
The MoD also said reports suggest Russia is planning to stage a referendum in the captured region of Kherson to legitimise it as a breakaway republic.
Domestically, Britons came forward in such large numbers to offer to take in Ukrainian refugees that the website for registering interest crashed shortly after opening.
The DLUHC spokesman confirmed that the Homes For Ukraine website “temporarily stalled” after it went live late on Monday afternoon due to the “enormous generosity of the British public” in expressing their interest to offer accommodation.
Almost three million people have fled Ukraine since Mr Putin ordered the assault on Kyiv and civilians have continued to find themselves caught up in the fighting.
Under the new scheme, sponsors can provide a route for Ukrainians without family ties to come to the UK for the first time.
Sponsors can be of any nationality as long as they have permission to be in the UK for at least six months.
Those putting up refugees can receive a tax-free monthly payment of £350 for each family they look after.
Separately, a new law was passed that will make it easier for ministers to impose sanctions on people linked to the Russian regime.
The Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act cleared both Houses of Parliament on Monday evening, with the legislation receiving royal assent in the early hours of Tuesday.
The fast-tracked legislation allows Britain to automatically sanction those who have had their assets frozen by the EU, US or Canada, opening the door to potentially hundreds more individual sanctions amid criticism that the UK Government has been slow to target those with Kremlin links.