Ukraine to offer 'many concessions' to avert Russian invasion, ambassador says

Britain warned missiles and bombs could land on Ukrainian cities within minutes of Putin's orders

A Ukrainian soldier trains during military drills close to Kharkiv, Ukraine. AP
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Ukraine is prepared to offer “many concessions” in the hope of avoiding a Russian invasion, the former Soviet republic's ambassador to the UK said.

Vadym Prystaiko clarified earlier remarks about possibly dropping a bid for Nato membership, saying that Kiev would not reconsider its attempt to join the transatlantic military alliance.

Asked whether or not Ukraine might reconsider its ambitions to join Nato, he told the BBC: “No this is not [the case] and I am quite happy that I have this chance to clarify my position.”

Britain's Armed Forces Minister said missiles and bombs could be launched at Ukrainian cities within minutes of President Vladimir Putin giving the order. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is stepping up diplomatic efforts in response to the crisis and is expected to travel to Europe this week for talks with his fellow leaders, as fears mount over the possibility of an imminent invasion.

Vadym Prystaiko arrives at the Ukraine embassy in London on Monday morning. Reuters

Speaking during a visit to Scotland on Monday, the prime minister warned an invasion of Ukraine could take place within 48 hours as he urged Mr Putin to step back from the “edge of a precipice”.

Mr Johnson said “serious preparations” were being made for a Russian invasion. In a message to European allies, Mr Johnson said the world needed to demonstrate the political and economic cost an invasion would have on Russia, including by ending reliance on its gas.

“This is a very, very dangerous, difficult situation, we are on the edge of a precipice but there is still time for President Putin to step back," he said during a visit to Rosyth shipyard.

He called for more dialogue and urged Russia to avoid a “disastrous” invasion.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is also expected to visit the continent during the diplomatic push, while Defence Secretary Ben Wallace will head to Brussels for a meeting of Nato defence ministers this week to discuss their response to the crisis.

On Sunday Mr Prystaiko told BBC Radio 5 that Ukraine “might” scrap its plan to join the military pact in the face of blackmail and pressure from Russia.

Mr Prystaiko said the earlier report was the result of a misunderstanding. However, he left the door open for “many concessions” to be made by Ukraine in its bid to avoid an invasion.

“We are not a member of Nato right now and to avoid war we are ready for many concessions and that is what we are doing in conversations with the Russians,” Mr Prystaiko said. “It has nothing to do with Nato, which is enshrined in the constitution.

“It is not a delay to our ambitions to be in Nato — what we are talking about is that we are not in the family now so we have to look for something else like bilateral agreements with the UK, with the United State. So on top of Nato we are looking for some other arrangements which would allow us to survive at this particular ordeal right now.”

In earlier comments on Sunday, Mr Prystaiko said Russia already had borders with Nato member states Poland, Estonia and Latvia. Dismissing the idea that Mr Putin feels threatened by the presence of the military alliance on his doorstep, the ambassador said what the Russian leader feared most was a rebellion among his own people inspired by Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, becoming “different from Russia”.

Ukraine’s continued leaning towards Europe could prompt Russians to ask Mr Putin “do we really have to be ruled [in] the way you do? Maybe we can be [like] Ukrainians and go [our] own way,” he said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's spokesman confirmed on Monday that the country's aspirations to join Nato and the European Union were enshrined in the country's constitution and remain its priority.

“This course is not only reflected in the constitution, but is also the full consent of the authorities and society,” spokesman Sergii Nykyforov told Reuters.

Leaders in Europe are increasing diplomatic efforts in the hope of convincing Mr Putin to pull back his troops from Ukraine’s borders.

Nato has said military aid to Ukraine would not include combat troops if Russia were to invade.

Meanwhile Britain’s Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the government was “redoubling” its efforts to prevent a Russian invasion of its neighbour.

Mr Johnson will embark on 48 hours of diplomacy with fellow western leaders amid reports that an invasion of Ukraine could come as early as Wednesday.

Downing Street did not offer specific travel plans, but Mr Johnson is expected to engage with Nordic and Baltic countries.

“The crisis on Ukraine's border has reached a critical juncture,” a spokesman said. “All the information we have suggests Russia could be a planning an invasion of Ukraine at any moment.

“This would have disastrous consequences for both Ukraine and Russia. There is still a window of opportunity for de-escalation and diplomacy, and the prime minister will continue to work tirelessly alongside our allies to get Russia to step back from the brink.”

Mr Heappey on Saturday confirmed no British troops would fight on Ukrainian soil in the event of a Russian invasion.

Speaking to Sky News on Monday morning, Mr Heappey warned missiles and bombs could land on Ukrainian cities minutes after Mr Putin gave an order to invade the country.

He said it was impossible to know how many British nationals had left Ukraine, following Friday’s warning to leave the country.

“It’s impossible to know how many have left so far because this is a very different type of country to Afghanistan,” he said. “There is free movement across the border of Ukraine into the European Union and people can just get in their cars and drive across into Poland.”

He said British nationals should make their way out of Ukraine” while there are the commercial means to do so and “whilst the motorways are available for them to drive out over the border”.

“This isn’t a warning about something that could happen in three months’ time, this isn’t a warning that will be followed by further warnings because greater imminence has been reached,” he said. “This is a warning because minutes after Putin gives the order, missiles and bombs could be landing on Ukrainian cities, and that means British citizens should leave now whilst they have the opportunities to do so.”

Mr Heappey said there was “a very, very worrying, very credible force massed around Ukraine”. He said the number of Russian troops massed on Ukraine's borders had increased to 130,000, with thousands more on amphibious ships in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

He said an attack could happen “with no notice”, and said all the medical supplies and bridging assets needed for a full-scale invasion “are all also now in place”.

Mr Heappey said he felt a sense of “nervousness” about the situation and refuted the notion Mr Putin had ordered the military build-up as a scare tactic to gain concessions from the West.

“He had that when there were 50,000 troops on the border of Ukraine but he’s kept on building them up,” he said.

“My fear is that it is now very imminent indeed. That’s not to say that it’s going to happen. I hope that diplomacy can win through.”

On Friday the Biden administration said it had intelligence suggesting Russia was planning to invade Ukraine as early as Wednesday. The US urged its citizens in Ukraine to urgently leave, before the UK and other western allies followed suit.

Mr Zelenskiy played down the intensified warnings about the possibility of an imminent invasion, saying he had yet to see any evidence of such a plan. On Saturday he urged the US to share the intelligence it had obtained with Kiev. He hit out at the warnings, saying they were causing panic.

The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected to travel to Kiev today for talks with Mr Zelenskiy, before flying to Moscow on Tuesday for a meeting with Mr Putin.

In a tweet posted on Monday morning, Mr Scholz pressed Russia to ease its pressure on Ukraine, giving a warning that “any further military aggression” would have heavy consequences for Moscow.

“From Moscow, we are demanding immediate signs of de-escalation,” Mr Scholz said as he prepared to board a plane to Kiev.

The G7 finance ministers group on Monday told Mr Putin an invasion of Ukraine would incur “massive” economic consequences for Russia, while pledging swift and decisive support for Kiev. The warning from the group comprising the UK, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan, comes on the back of increasing sanctions threats against Moscow.

“The ongoing Russian military build-up at Ukraine’s borders is a cause for grave concern. We, the G7 Finance Ministers, underline our readiness to act swiftly and decisively to support the Ukrainian economy,” they wrote in a joint statement.

“Any further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine will be met with a swift, co-ordinated and forceful response.

“We are prepared to collectively impose economic and financial sanctions which will have massive and immediate consequences on the Russian economy.”

Updated: February 14, 2022, 3:41 PM
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