3 min read
Boris Johnson has said intelligence from the Ukraine border is “not encouraging”, but that there are signs of a “diplomatic opening” as Russia continues to build up forces.
The Prime Minister warned Russia that the UK will not hesitate to push ahead with a “very tough” package of sanctions if they are “so rash, so reckless as to invade Ukraine”.
Speaking after a meeting of the government’s emergency COBR committee on Tuesday, Johnson said there were still opportunities to de-escalate the crisis, but said the situation was a “mixed picture”.
“Last night, going into today, clearly there are signs of a diplomatic opening,” he said.
“There always has been an opportunity to talk. There are grounds for a conversation about Ukraine, with Ukraine, and that is good. We are seeing a Russian openness to conversations.
But he warned that intelligence received today was “still not encouraging” that a breakthrough was imminent.
“We have Russian field hospitals being constructed near the border with Ukraine, in Belarus, that only can be construed as preparation for an invasion,” Johnson continued.
“You’ve got more battalion tactical groups being brought closer to the border according to the intelligence we are seeing. So mixed signals, we are seeing at the moment.”
Johnson said the UK had prepared a “very, very tough package” of economic sanctions against Russia which would be deployed in the event of a “rash” and “reckless” move on Ukraine.
“What we are doing is targeting particular Russian banks, particular Russian companies, and making sure we take even more steps to unpeel the facade of Russian property holdings, whether in London or elsewhere,” he said.
Russia’s defence ministry today claimed they are withdrawing some troops from the border following the conclusion of military drills.
Defence ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkob, said: “A number of combat training exercises, including drills, have been conducted as planned.”
Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, added: “We have always said that after the exercises are over … troops would return to their permanent bases. There’s nothing new here. This is a usual process.”
But Ukrainian officials have urged for a full withdrawal of all Russian forces from the border. “We have a rule: don’t believe what you hear, believe what you see. When we see a withdrawal, we will believe in a de-escalation,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said “signs” from Moscow around continued diplomatic talks “gives ground for cautious optimism,” but that they “haven’t seen any de-escalation so far”.
He added: “So far we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground, not seen any signs of reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine, but we will continue to monitor.”
Speaking on Tuesday morning, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss dismissed Russia’s claims that the build up was a response to security threats.
“This, I fear, is an attack that wouldn’t stop at Ukraine, but would spread to Eastern Europe. Russia says it’s security is being undermined but nobody believes that Russia is under attack,” she said.
In statement issued on Monday evening between US President Joe Biden and Johnson, the pair agreed that further “incursion” at the border would lead to a “protracted crisis for Russia”.
“They agreed that western allies must remain united in the face of Russian threats, including imposing a significant package of sanctions should Russian aggression escalate,” the statement added.
“They also reiterated the need for European countries to reduce their dependence on Russian gas, a move which, more than any other, would strike at the heart of Russia’s strategic interests.”
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