UK deputy prime minister sees 'very significant' threat of Russia invading Ukraine

Release of intelligence on puppet regime and troop movements increases fears of imminent attack

Russian President Vladimir Putin's government has derided British claims of a puppet government being planned for Ukraine after an invasion. AP
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Britain’s deputy prime minister has issued a warning that there is a “very significant” risk Russia will invade Ukraine imminently.

Dominic Raab’s fears were echoed by the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK who said it was “very likely” as reports of Russian armoured movement along the border continued to cause alarm.

While Russia’s defence chief Sergei Shoigu is understood to have accepted a meeting with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in London this week, it appears a full takeover is being planned after the Foreign Office took the unusual decision to release intelligence naming Ukrainian figures in a puppet government.

Acting on information gathered by the intelligence services, likely to be MI6, Britain named former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as the main Kremlin candidate to assume power following an invasion.

There has also been reports of new reinforcements being ordered to deploy from Siberia and the Far East to the Ukraine region for lengthy assignments.

There is now more than 120,000 Russian troops posted on the border along with significant numbers of tanks, artillery and missile batteries.

“I think there is a very significant risk of it,” Mr Raab said when asked on Sunday by the BBC if he thought a war was likely.

He insisted that it had to be made “very clear” to President Vladimir Putin that an invasion would come with at a high cost.

“A price in terms of the strenuous defence that we would expect the Ukrainians to put up, but also the economic cost through sanctions, which are of course more effective if the international community speaks as one or at least with a broad consensus,” he said.

While Ukraine ambassador Vadym Prystaiko admitted that an attack was likely and his country was “prepared to fight” he told Times Radio that “there is still room for diplomatic resolution”.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, warned of "massive consequences" for Mr Putin if he invaded.

"We’ve given Russia two paths: there’s a path of diplomacy and dialogue, one that I’ve engaged in with Foreign Minister Lavrov just last week in Geneva, but there’s also a path of renewed aggression and massive consequences that we have been building now for many weeks,” he told CNN.

Mr Blinken added that he had just authorised the provision of American military equipment stationed in the Baltic States to be moved to Ukraine.

Hopes for resolving the crisis appeared to recede after Britain revealed the name of Mr Murayev, a media owner who failed to keep his seat in the 2019 elections, and four other Ukrainian politicians, who had allegedly been in contact with Russian intelligence officers working on the invasion plan.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the information she authorised for publication “shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine”, adding that it showed “an insight into Kremlin thinking”.

The war of diplomatic words continued with Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accusing Britain of “disinformation”.

It said London should “cease these provocative activities” and “stop spreading nonsense”.

Despite the growing fears of invasion, the US State Department said it was not yet telling its citizens in the Ukraine capital Kiev to leave.

With much of its armed forces now mobilised, Ukrainians are attempting to keep up their spirits by taking to social media. One satirical meme has praised Britain for sending 2,000 anti-tank weapons while deriding Germany for blocking the supplies being flown over its airspace.

The phrase "God save the Queen" is also trending on Twitter to the sound of the British national anthem.

Germany’s navy chief, who resigned on Saturday after he said Mr Putin should be shown “respect” and that fears of an invasion were “nonsense”, was accused by Ukraine’s ambassador to Berlin of raising the “horrors of the Nazi occupation” by his comments.

Updated: January 23, 2022, 6:21 PM