LONDON – Britain and the United States are not trying to exaggerate the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Boris Johnson said as he warned Moscow was trying to “redraw the security map of Europe”.
The British Prime Minister is in Kiev for crisis talks with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
At a joint press conference, Johnson described the Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s border as possibly “the greatest demonstration of hostility towards Ukraine in our lives.”
However, the prime minister dismissed suggestions that London and Washington were addressing the risk of a Russian military incursion into Ukraine, stressing that such warnings are backed by intelligence agencies.
“Someone said we’re exaggerating the threat, [that] We – the US and the UK – are trying to scale that up in some way,” Johnson said. “I just have to say, that’s not the intelligence we’re seeing. This is a clear and present danger. We see large numbers of troops assembling, we see preparations for all sorts of operations associated with an upcoming military campaign.”
Johnson’s visit, his first to Ukraine as Prime Minister, came hours after British Defense Staff Tony Radakin told the British Cabinet that Russia’s military actions on its border with Ukraine “fit a pattern of coercion and intimidation aimed at Undermining values and principles of the West,” read a note from No 10 Downing Street.
Johnson said it was “vital” that Moscow understands “there will be an automatism” in the application of British sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine.
Zelenskyi told reporters “preventive sanctions” against Russia could stop further escalation.
“If you ask me, I’d say they would work if introduced before the escalation,” he said, adding Kiev will support any British effort to crack down on “dirty money” run by Russian oligarchs in London is washed.
Three-way security talks
The UK, Poland and Ukraine are already in talks to increase cooperation against Russian aggression, according to representatives and officials from all three countries.
Their goal is to sign a trilateral document in the short term that will set up a new format for regional cooperation in the face of Russian aggression, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said earlier Tuesday at a separate news conference after meeting his Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki in Kyiv .
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who was due to accompany Johnson to Kiev but tested positive for coronavirus on the eve of the trip, has been leading the talks on behalf of the British government, according to a British official.
The three countries planned to sign a “Memorandum of Cooperation” in Warsaw on either February 17 or 24, but all sides have now agreed that any announcement should be postponed, in part to allow Truss to hold bilateral meetings with theirs Align Ukrainian and Polish counterparts. said a British diplomat.
Morawiecki, who appeared alongside Schmyhal, said the foreign ministers were “working on a possible format that could deepen cooperation between Poland, Ukraine and Britain in various areas”.
Warsaw is ready to provide Ukraine with weapons – including artillery ammunition, mortars, man-portable air defense systems and surveillance drones – as well as gas supplies and humanitarian and economic assistance.
“Living near a neighbor like Russia, we feel like living at the foot of a volcano,” Morawiecki added.