Britain has pledged to continue to supply arms to Ukraine’s embattled military as the fighting with Russian forces reached the outskirts of the capital, Kiev.
Armed forces minister James Heappey said Russians troops had not made the progress they might have hoped, with the main armoured columns still some way from the city.
He warned that the defenders faced “days, weeks, months more” of heavy fighting as Russian President Vladimir Putin strives to topple the Ukrainian government and impose his writ on the country.
“This is going to be a long slog. It is going to be brutal. We are going to see some horrendous things on our TV screens,” Heappey told BBC Breakfast.
With the noose tightening around his capital, a defiant President Volodymyr Zelensky refused an American offer to evacuate, insisting: “The fight is here”.
However, Heappey disclosed that the Ministry of Defence was working on plans to support a resistance movement and a government in exile if Ukraine was finally overrun.
“That is a decision for the National Security Council to take but it is something that the Prime Minister has asked us in the Ministry of Defence to look at and plan for,” he told Sky News.
On Friday, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace convened a meeting with 25 other donor nations who all agreed to supply arms or humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Britain has already sent 2,000 anti-tank missile launchers and Mr Heappy said they were looking to get more weaponry to the country.
“We know what the Ukrainians want. We are doing our best to get it to them,” he said. While the situation was “very grave”, he said it was clear that the Russian advance was not going to plan in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance.
He said the Kremlin had expected to take a slew of Ukrainian cities on day one of the invasion, while encircling Kiev ahead of a full-scale assault.
However, so far the fighting in the capital had been confined to “very isolated pockets of Russian special forces and paratroopers” with the main armoured columns “still some way off”, he added.
“That is a testament to the incredible resistance the Ukrainian armoured forces have put up over the last 48 hours or so,” he told Sky News.
“Clearly the Russian plan is to take Kiev but the reality is that the Ukrainians are thwarting them thus far.
“I think that will be a great cause of concern for President Putin and rather points to the fact that there was a lot of hubris in the Russian plan and that he may be awfully advised.” In its latest intelligence assessment issued on Saturday, the Ministry of Defence said the Russian advance had “temporarily slowed” probably due to “acute logistical difficulties” as well as the strength of the Ukrainian resistance.
But with Moscow having massed an estimated 150,000 troops on the border ahead of the invasion, Heappey said people needed to be “clear-eyed” about what lay ahead.
“President Putin, if you listen to his speeches, look at his press conferences over the last two or three days, there has been a fanaticism in the language that he used, a fervour in the tone of his voice. He has gone all in on this,” he told the BBC.
“I am afraid that that means that what is in front of Ukraine is bloody, brutal. We will do everything we can to help them resist but people shouldn’t necessarily think that a happy ending is just around the corner.”