Britain and its allies are unlikely to send troops to intervene if Russia invades Ukraine, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.
Mr Wallace said his comments would not be a surprise to Ukraine, which faces an unexplained Russian troop build-up on its eastern flank, because it is not a member of Nato.
His comments to The Spectator magazine come after weeks of warnings by Nato countries that Russia would face severe consequences if it attacks its former Soviet neighbour.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson signalled on Friday that the UK would turn to “diplomatic and economic powers” to deter Russia.
And Mr Wallace said that economic sanctions, such as cutting Russia off from an international payment network, were the most likely response.
Ukraine “is not a member of Nato so it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to send troops into Ukraine to challenge Russia”, Mr Wallace said.
“We shouldn’t kid people we would. The Ukrainians are aware of that.”
US President Joe Biden has similarly played down the idea of American troops fighting Russian soldiers on the battlefield.
Nato said this week that the Russian troop movements near Ukraine showed no signs of slowing down, despite international condemnation.
Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, in a move not recognised by most of the international community.
The Kremlin denies planning a full invasion, but issued terms for a de-escalation on Friday which included a veto on Ukraine joining Nato.
It called on Washington to block Nato membership of any former Soviet country, referring to Georgia as well as Ukraine.
Other demands included limits on missile and a ban on Nato military activity in Moscow’s sphere of influence.
The US said it was willing to speak to Russia but regarded some of its proposals as unacceptable.
“There are some things in those documents that the Russians know will be unacceptable,” a senior US official said.
“But there are other things that we are prepared to work with and that merit some discussion.”
Ukraine’s western-leaning President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week that Nato membership was a matter for his people, not for any other country.
“Our Euro-Atlantic course remains the same. Support for this course keeps growing in Ukrainian society,” he said.