Nato defence ministers meet as Putin backs more dialogue

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace will meet fellow NATO defense ministers in Brussels today as efforts continue to prevent a war in Ukraine.

The Defense Secretary will join Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin amid ongoing tensions in eastern Europe as the alliance considers its response to the 130,000 Russian troops massing at Ukraine’s borders.

The meeting comes after President Putin said yesterday that Russia did not want another war, and was open to further dialogue with the US and its Nato allies.

In the UK, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said he was cautiously optimistic about news of some troops were withdrawing from the Ukrainian border but added he would “continue to be very vigilant” of Russia’s actions.

The Prime Minister had earlier suggested there were “mixed signals” coming out of Russia about the prospect of an invasion of Ukraine, describing the situation as “not encouraging”.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, gave a televised address in the United States, in which he said an invasion was still possible and stressed the US would defend all Nato territory.

Defense minister Mr Heappey welcomed news Russia was withdrawing troops, saying it gave the UK “some real cautious optimism”.

He told Channel 4 News: “If, as a consequence of a combination of things over the last few weeks, the threat of economic sanctions and the impact that that threat is having on the Russian economy, if the cost of military action has started to become clear, then that is a good thing that Russia may be moving in a different direction.”

Following a Cobra emergency committee meeting, Boris Johnson said the intelligence he has received about Russian military activity is “not encouraging”, with the construction of field hospitals and the movement of extra forces closer to the border suggesting preparations are still being made for an invasion .

While Mr Johnson acknowledged Russia had claimed it was withdrawing troops from the border, he added there were “more battalion tactical groups being brought closer to the border”.

“So, mixed signals, I think at the moment,” he said.

Mr Johnson also said he would bring forward a new Economic Crime Bill in order to deal with “dirty” Russian money in the City of London.

The news was welcomed by both Labor and Conservative MPs, but Labor opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer warned the Prime Minister should “get his own house in order” by investigating whether the Tories had received any donations linked to Mr Putin.

Sir Keir also encouraged the Government to “go now and go hard” in using economic sanctions against Russia.

Speaking after talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, President Putin said Russia was ready for talks and emphasized the need for the West to heed his main demands.

He claimed the US and Nato had rejected Moscow’s demand to keep Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations out of Nato, and to roll back alliance forces from eastern Europe.

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