UK warns Russian invasion of Ukraine has ‘already begun in effect'

False flag operations part of Moscow playbook as pretext for assault on neighbour, Downing Street states

Russian and Belarus soldiers during joint exercises at a firing range near Brest. AFP

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has “already begun in effect” with a series of false flag operations, Downing Street’s chief spokesman has said.

Moscow was now following its classic pre-assault “playbook” of creating a staged pretext for invasion by claiming its military and civilians have been attacked by Ukraine, the British prime minister’s official spokesman told a media briefing.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss also warned on Monday that an invasion was “highly likely” despite the US and Russian presidents agreeing tentatively to hold a crisis summit.

A Cabinet meeting was delayed to allow the British prime minister to receive an updated security briefing from intelligence officials.

“The intelligence that we are seeing suggests Russia intends to launch an invasion and that President Putin’s plan has already begun, in effect,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told the press.

“We’re seeing elements of the Russian playbook that we would expect to see in those certain situations, starting to play out in real time,” he said.

“We have been working with Nato allies to map that out when we see it. The intelligence we have suggests that they still intend to launch an invasion and we stand ready to act as needed.”

A woman walks from Russia-backed separatists territory into Ukraine as a senior British official warns that the invasion has "already begun in effect" with false flag operations. AP

The urgency of the situation is reflected in the government’s willingness to make high-level intelligence public.

However, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said western governments still believed there was “a window for diplomacy” and warned the sanctions being proposed for an invasion would be a deterrent for “people stepping foot into Ukraine”.

Moments after the media briefing, reports from Reuters claimed that Russian troops had prevented “Ukrainian saboteurs” from breaching their shared border in the Rostov region with five deaths and Ukrainian armoured vehicles destroyed.

Ukraine’s defence ministry refuted the claims. But they follow a series of alleged incidents being reported by Russia that could cumulatively lead to an invasion. Moscow has already claimed that a border post was destroyed by a Ukraine shell, although no casualties were reported. It has also helped 60,000 people to evacuate the Donbas region “to protect them from the growing violence”.

On Monday afternoon, the leader of a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine appealed to Moscow for financial and military support before an emergency meeting of Mr Putin’s security council.

British security officials are understood to have concluded that these are all prearranged steps designed to give the Kremlin a justified cause to invade.

Hopes of a summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin diminished on Monday when Andrei Kelin, the Russian ambassador to Britain, stated it was too soon to say it would go ahead.

“As far as I understand, the summit should be well prepared, preparations should be made by ministers,” he said.

Fears of an invasion were echoed by Ms Truss, before an EU meeting on Brexit, in which she said the price of aggression would be “intolerably high” for Russia.

“Diplomacy must be pursued but a Russian invasion of Ukraine looks highly likely,” she tweeted. “The UK and allies are stepping up preparations for the worst-case scenario. We must make the cost for Russia intolerably high.”

Updated: February 21, 2022, 2:20 PM