LONDON — The Russian president is still committed to launching a further invasion of Ukraine despite claiming the opposite, Britain has warned.
In an address to the House of Commons Monday, UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said a series of false-flag operations, orchestrated by the Kremlin in recent days, and the continued arrival of troops and military technologies to the border, made the UK believe Russia is still planning to invade its neighbor.
“We’ve seen over the last few weeks the Russian playbook being implemented in a way that gives a strong cause for concern that President [Vladimir] Putin is still committed to an invasion,” Wallace said. “I believe he is in danger of setting himself on a tragic course of events leading to a humanitarian crisis, instability and widespread suffering, not just of Ukrainians but also of the Russian people.”
Earlier on Monday, following talks in Brussels with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said an invasion still appears to be “highly likely,” adding Britain is “stepping up preparations for the worst-case scenario.”
The British prime minister’s official spokesman said Monday that elements of Moscow’s plan are beginning to play out. “Intelligence we are seeing suggests Russia intends to launch an invasion and President Putin’s plan has in effect already begun,” the spokesman said, insisting there is still a “window of diplomacy” to resolve the crisis.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken are expected to meet Thursday. Britain is also closely following an ongoing meeting of the Russian Security Council chaired by Putin.
Wallace will host nine counterparts from Northern European countries Monday and Tuesday at Belvoir Castle in the East Midlands to discuss the Ukraine crisis under the umbrella of the Joint Expeditionary Force, which is led by the UK The JEF includes non-NATO members such as Finland and Sweden.
The warnings by British ministers were echoed by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, who watched Wallace’s statement during a visit to the UK parliament. She told reporters that she still thinks the prospect of an invasion “is real and imminent.”
The US and the UK have faced questions in recent weeks about the reliability of their warnings, amid the absence of an attack so far and the Kremlin’s refusals of having such a plan.
A Western official said Monday they still do not know whether Putin has issued an order to begin an attack against Ukraine, but all the evidence on the ground “is entirely consistent” with him going ahead with a plan to invade.
The official suggested Putin might be held back by warnings from senior Russian military and security officials who have “very serious doubts” about Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine and its effectiveness. The Kremlin might also be trying to make time to ensure the logistics for a successful large-scale invasion are in place, they said.
“This is about how do you ensure that you’ve got the right logistics supply, the ability to sustain combat operations over a significantly long period of time,” a second Western official said. “There is a kind of long logistical challenge and the further those troops go, the more demanding that logistical demand will be for them and beyond the troops that are massed around the border, you also need to get your maritime, cyber and other elements appropriately synchronized to be able to ensure that you have a coordinated and multidomain operation.”
The latest Western intelligence, confirmed by Wallace in the chamber, suggests that Russia has deployed more S-400 anti-aircraft missile systems and armored vehicles into forward locations during the weekend.
Russia has now around 110 battalion tactical groups in the area of operations, with a number still in transit. About two-thirds of those groups are within 50 kilometers of the Ukraine border, up from half last week. Of those within that range, about half have now moved from staging areas into tactical formation, the second Western official said, adding: “I would characterize this as a move from being postured for military operations to being poised for military operations.”
Russia would respond with sanctions against Britain if the UK government issued punitive measures against Moscow, Russian Ambassador to the UK Andrei Kelin told the PA news agency.