The prime minister is considering increasing the number of British troops being deployed to bolster Europe’s borders amid the Ukraine crisis.
Boris Johnson said the new offer to Nato that is now under consideration – which could see double the amount of military personnel sent to the region – would “send a clear message to the Kremlin” that “we will not tolerate their destabilising activity”.
It comes as No 10 signalled the extra support from the UK could involve sending defensive weapons to Estonia.
Fast jets, warships and military specialists could all be sent to protect Nato allies, it is understood, with Downing Street saying the presence of extra troops would “reinforce Nato’s defences and underpin the UK’s support for Nordic and Baltic partners”.
Mr Johnson, who previously said the invasion of Ukraine by Russia would be a “tragedy”, is due to call Russian president Vladimir Putin in the coming days and reiterate the need for the nation to “engage diplomatically” and “step back,” No 10 has said.
He is also scheduled to visit eastern Europe early next week as part of the UK’s efforts to help resolve the still-unfolding crisis.
As well as Mr Johnson, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, and defence secretary Ben Wallace have been told to fly to Moscow for talks with their counterparts. They will be asked to improve relationships with the Russian government and encourage de-escalation, No 10 said of the various visits.
Mr Wallace is then expected to meet with allies in Hungary, Slovenia and Croatia on the PM’s behalf as he continues to deal with the fallout of the Partygate scandal still cutting through Westminster.
Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has asked the chief of defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, to attend the government’s weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday to brief ministers on the situation in Ukraine.
The UK already has more than 100 troops providing training in Ukraine as part of Operation Orbital. There are also 900 British military personnel based in Estonia, and a Light Cavalry Squadron of around 150 people in Poland, according to Downing Street.
Speaking about the possibility of sending more troops to the troubled region, the prime minister said in a statement: “We will not tolerate their destabilising activity, and we will always stand with our Nato allies in the face of Russian hostility.
“If President Putin chooses a path of bloodshed and destruction, it will be a tragedy for Europe. Ukraine must be free to choose its own future.”
He added: “I have ordered our Armed Forces to prepare to deploy across Europe next week, ensuring we are able to support our Nato allies on land, at sea and in the air.”
Kyiv has urged the prime minister, and other Western allies, to remain “vigilant and firm” in their talks with Russia amid concerns after Mr Putin’s forces placed around 100,000 troops, tanks, artillery and missiles near Ukraine’s border.
However, the Russian president continues to deny he has plans to invade the former Soviet republic, which borders both Russia and the EU.
Following “hours-long talks” between Russia and France, an aide for French president Emmanuel Macron reportedly told The Guardian Mr Putin had “no offensive plans”.
Despite this, leaders including US president Joe Biden remain convinced Russia will move in. His administration told the media in recent days that it knows of Russian plans to boost its forces near Ukraine “on very short notice”.
Mr Johnson has since said the UK could, and would, deploy troops to protect Nato allies if necessary.
Ukraine is not part of Nato and Russia has asked for assurances from the West that it will never be allowed to join the military alliance, seeing it as a direct threat to its security. However, the US publicly rejected such a demand this week, saying the alliance would continue to stick to its “open-door policy”.
Nato’s 30 members include the US, UK, and several former Soviet republics, some of which border Russia. All agree to come to another’s aid in the event of an armed attack.
The Foreign Office is expected to announce tougher sanctions on Monday, meaning the UK will be able to target Russia’s strategic and financial interests. Asked what these sanctions could look like earlier this week, Ms Truss told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme they “would target individuals”.
“They would target financial institutions and they would be co-ordinated with all of our allies across Europe, the United States and others,” she said.
The foreign secretary also revealed the UK had not ruled out support for personal sanctions against Mr Putin should he go back on his word and power ahead with an incursion.
Additional reporting by agencies