Defence chiefs finalising plans to bring 1,000 Britons back to the UK
Defence chiefs are finalising plans to bring back 1,000 Britons from Ukraine as fears over a Russian invasion continue to rise.
Officials are said to be considering sending troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade, the unit that assisted with the rescue mission in Kabul last year, to mount an evacuation of UK nationals.
Defence sources say troops would fly to Ukraine in RAF transports and help pull out expats, The Mirror reports.
A defence source said: ‘If Russia invades, the situation will deteriorate rapidly.
‘British nationals will need help to escape. Ideally, this will happen prior to an invasion but we must be prepared for anything.’
Dominic Raab has warned Russian President Vladimir Putin there will be ‘very serious severe consequences’ and economic sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine or put in place a pro-Kremlin leader after MI6 uncovered a plot to install a puppet Government.
The Deputy Prime Minister said there would be a ‘robust and concerted’ response after British intelligence discovered Ukrainian politician Yevhen Murayev, who has previously defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea, was being lined up to run the country as a satellite of Moscow.
Mr Murayev said he was ‘amused’ by the revelations, made public by Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, before dismissing them as ‘stupidity’.
But Mr Raab today warned Mr Putin of ‘serious consequences’ if Russia invades Ukraine as troops continue to amass on the border.
Appearing on Sky News, he said: ‘We are standing shoulder to shoulder [with European countries, Nato and the US], saying there will be very serious consequences if Russia takes this move to try and invade and also install a puppet regime.
‘We wouldn’t telegraph all of the measures we would take, but it is important that this very clear message, not just from the UK but from all Nato and other interested countries around the world who want to uphold the rule of law, that there will be very serious, severe economic consequences.
‘It will obviously involve a range of financial and economic sanctions. We wouldn’t telegraph those in advance, but you can rest assured that the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary will be liaising with all of our partners and engaging, as we have done for many months, to make sure the response is robust and concerted.’
Mr Murayev, 45, owns a television channel and founded his own political party after breaking away from Ukraine’s most prominent pro-Russian party.
He told The Telegraph: ‘I have a hard time digesting stupidity and nonsense: Maybe someone wants to shut down yet another independent TV channel.
‘As someone who has been under Russian sanctions for four years, barred from Russia as a national security threat and whose father got his assets frozen in Russia, I find it hard to comment on the Foreign Office’s statement.’
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has also rejected the claims as ‘disinformation’ and called for the British Foreign Office to ‘stop spreading nonsense’.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: ‘The disinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is more evidence that it is the Nato countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine.
‘We call on the British Foreign Office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense.’
Former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev has denied claims he is being lined up to run the country as a satellite of Moscow
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said British intelligence had discovered Yevhen Murayev was being lined up by Russia
Russia has denied it is planning an invasion, but Vladimir Putin has issued demands to the West which he says concern Russia’s security, including not allowing Ukraine to join Nato
People rallying in patriotic support of Ukraine hold a 500 meter long ribbon in the colours of the Ukrainian flag on Unity Day (January 22)
German navy chief resigns for saying Putin wants ‘respect’ and giving it to him would be ‘low cost’ after nation was condemned for refusing to supply weapons to Kiev
The head of the German navy yesterday night resigned for saying Putin wants ‘respect’ and giving it to him would be ‘low cost’ after the nation was condemned for refusing to supply weapons to Kiev.
Speaking at an event in India on Friday, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach said Ukraine would not regain the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.
Mr Schoenbach said of Russia’s president: ‘It’s easy to give him the respect he wants, and probably deserves as well.’
The Vice Admiral’s comments were captured on video and caused anger in Ukraine with the foreign ministry summoning the German ambassador Anka Feldhusen to complain. This was to stress ‘the categorical unacceptability’ of the comments by Mr Schoenbach in which he also called Russian plans to invade Ukraine ‘inept’, the foreign ministry said.
Later, Mr Schoenbach announced his resignation. ‘I have asked Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht to relieve me from my duties with immediate effect,’ vice-admiral Schoenbach said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Defence Ministry in Berlin said that the Admiral’s words were not reflective of the country’s own position on the Ukraine crisis.
Ms Truss said the information ‘shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking’.
The White House also called MI6’s assessment ‘deeply concerning’ and said it stands with the duly elected Ukrainian government.
National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said: ‘This kind of plotting is deeply concerning. The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine.’
President Joe Biden spent Saturday at the presidential retreat Camp David outside Washington discussing the Ukraine situation with his senior national security team.
A White House official said the discussions included efforts to de-escalate the situation, with diplomacy and deterrence measures being coordinated closely with allies and partners, including security assistance to Ukraine.
It comes as Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky warned of a ‘large-scale war’ after Moscow massed more than 100,000 troops, tanks and artillery pieces along his border.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has also agreed to meet his UK counterpart Ben Wallace in Moscow for emergency talks after Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood warned an invasion of Ukraine was ‘imminent’ and that President Putin was ‘exploiting Western weakness’.
Analysts, though, are understood to have been surprised by Ms Truss’ allegations that Mr Murayev had been selected as the Kremlin’s preferred leader, with some describing his as a ‘marginal’ figure.
Ms Truss said the Foreign Office had established that the Russian government was looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kiev as it ‘considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine’, and that Russian intelligence officers involved in the planning for an attack were in contact with sympathetic politicians in the country.
The Foreign Secretary added: ‘The information being released today shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking.
‘Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy.
‘As the UK and our partners have said repeatedly, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs.’
Political analysts have pointed to more obvious choices to Mr Murayev, including Viktor Medvedchuk – a tycoon and friend of Mr Putin.
Volodymyr Fesenko, a political expert in Kiev, said: ‘Medvdevchuk is definitely much closer to the Kremlin, and they treat him as one of their own.
He added that Mr Murayev ‘could be one of the people to seek roles in a new Government’ if Russia was to invade Ukraine, describing him as one of many who could form a ‘fifth column in Ukraine’.
Asked about the proposals for him to be installed as a puppet leader, Mr Murayev said: ‘Unless I’ve missed something, they [Russia] have another candidate and they’re not even hiding it. I’m a patriot of my country.’
It is believed he may have been referring to Mr Medvedchuk, who is currently under house arrest in Kiev amid suspicions he was funnelling profits from his businesses to Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed separatists. He denies any wrongdoing.
Civilian participants in a Kyiv Territorial Defence unit train in a forest on Saturday, with thousands of civilians receiving basic combat training
A convoy of Russian armored vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea last week
Across Ukraine thousands of civilians are participating in such groups to receive basic combat training and in time of war would be under direct command of the Ukrainian military
A Russian rocket launcher fires during military drills near Orenburg in the Urals, Russia, last month
Servicemen stand guard as local residents gather to lay flower during a memorial ceremony to honor the memory of civilians who died during shelling at a crowded bus stop in 2015, in Donetsk, on Saturday
People with Ukrainian flags attend a patriotic rally at Sophia Square on Unity Day. Speakers at the rally demanded Ukrainian membership in the European Union and the NATO military alliance and derided Russian President Vladimir Putin
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in Moscow for talks to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis as the country’s servicemen (pictured, Russian troops take part in military drills in Rostov in southern Russia, less than 70 miles from the Ukrainian frontier) take part in drills along the border amid fears of an invasion
A convoy of Russian armoured vehicles moves along a highway in Crimea, Tuesday, January 18, 2022. Ukraine today condemned Germany for its refusal to supply weapons to Kyiv, urging Berlin to stop ‘undermining unity’ and ‘encouraging Vladimir Putin’ amid fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine
The Ukrainian Government also closed three television channels linked to Mr Medvedchuk, claiming they were spreading pro-Russian propaganda.
The tycoon, 67, is a friend of Mr Putin, who is the godfather of his daughter.
His legal troubles are said to have upset the Russian President.
Mr Murayev, meanwhile, is a Russian speaker from Kharkiv, close to the Russian border, and first entered parliament in 2012 under the leadership of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych.
Mr Yanukovych was later toppled and fled to Russia in 2014.
Mr Murayev, though, remained in Ukraine and has called for closer ties with Russia, despite the tensions created by its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
He ran for president in 2019, but pulled out of the race early in favour of backing another Putin-friendly candidate.
Mr Murayev owns one of only few pro-Russia television channels, named Nash.
He appeared on the channel week and accused the US of using Nato to ‘occupy Europe after the Second World War’, adding that Ukraine has become stuck in a crossfire between Russia and the US.
Despite being hit with Russian sanctions in 2018, he has maintained that the conflict with neighbouring Russia ‘needs to be stopped’ and points to ‘a common history going back several centuries’.
Russia has denied it is planning an invasion, but Mr Putin has issued demands to the West which he says concern Russia’s security, including not allowing Ukraine to join Nato.
He also wants Nato to abandon military exercises in the region and to stop sending weapons to eastern Europe.
Boris Johnson is expected to ramp up the pressure on Russia this week by calling for European countries to join forces with the US in the face of increasing aggression and pushing for a ‘gear change’ on the Ukraine situation.