Prime Minister fears Europe is on ‘precipice’ as Russia expands forces to Ukraine’s borders | Ukraine

Boris Johnson said he feared Europe was “on the edge of a precipice” as some experts said Russia had now assembled a force on Ukraine’s borders which would be capable of invading.

On a day of rushed British diplomacy, the Prime Minister said he hoped Russian President Vladimir Putin would ‘disengage and de-escalate’ while Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held frosty talks with his counterpart in Moscow and announced new sanctions. legislation.

“I think today, February 10, 2022, we are on the edge of a precipice and things are as dangerous as I have seen in Europe for a long, long time,” Johnson said as he finished a trip to NATO in Brussels and the Polish government in Warsaw.

The prime minister, under pressure at home over whether to resign if fined for attending lockdown-breaking parties, has sought to heighten concerns over Russian intentions as the Ukraine crisis enters a decisive phase.

Earlier at NATO headquarters, Johnson said the situation had entered “the most dangerous moment”. His words were echoed by the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, who added: “The number of Russian forces is increasing. The warning time of a possible attack decreases.

Military analysts estimate that Moscow has massed more than 135,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, both in Russia and in Belarus, where 10 days of joint military exercises between the two authoritarian countries began on Thursday.

Some now believe that almost all the necessary elements are in place if Putin wanted to attack. Rob Lee, a Russian military expert and fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute, tweeted late Wednesday that “the Russian military, as of this week/weekend, has the military capabilities to carry out a full-scale invasion.”

NBC News reported that a US intelligence assessment concluded that Russia had assembled 100 battalion battle groups as well as special forces on the borders with Ukraine, a level once considered by Washington to be a credible invasion force.

Ukraine is skeptical that Putin risks a full-scale attack, though Kyiv fears Moscow may attempt a more limited incursion into its southeastern Donbass region, where a low-intensity war with separatists backed by Russia has been going on since 2014.

The country’s leader said he thought Russia’s latest tactics were familiar. Addressing a group of European business leaders, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said: “The buildup of forces on the border is psychological pressure from our neighbours. We don’t see anything new here.

Johnson said the UK and NATO would not intervene militarily if non-NATO member Ukraine was attacked, but suggested the UK would be prepared to arm any insurgency if Russia attacked or that Kiev was falling. “It’s possible, I don’t want to rule that out,” he said.

Britain also unveiled its promised sanctions legislation, designed to target oligarchs who control companies of economic or strategic importance to Russia if the Kremlin orders an invasion. It followed a day in which Truss met his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, in Moscow in two hours of talks marred by an apparent display of Kremlin one-upmanship.

At a chilling press conference, Lavrov, an 18-year veteran as foreign minister, said their talks amounted to a conversation of “mutes with the deaf” and that the talks contained “nothing secret. , no confidence, just slogans shouted from the stands”. ”. Lavrov also hinted that Russia may withdraw non-essential diplomatic personnel from Ukraine.

Truss, who became foreign minister in September, stuck to her prepared remarks while taking questions from reporters, repeating warnings that a war would be “disastrous for the Russian and Ukrainian peoples and for European security”.

The British minister also challenged Lavrov directly on his assertion that Russia is not threatening anyone with its buildup of troops and armaments. “I don’t see any other reason to have 100,000 troops stationed on the border other than to threaten Ukraine,” she said.

In private discussions, Truss allegedly confused the Russian regions of Voronezh and Rostov with Ukrainian territory when Lavrov asked her if she recognized Russian sovereignty over them. She repeatedly told Lavrov that the UK would never recognize Moscow’s claim until the British ambassador was forced to step in to correct it, Russian business daily Kommersant reported.

Truss partly confirmed the account in an interview with the Russian press: “It seemed to me that Minister Lavrov was talking about a part of Ukraine. I have clearly indicated that these regions [Rostov and Voronezh] are part of sovereign Russia,” she said, according to the British Embassy in Moscow.

Britain also confirmed it had sent body armor, helmets and combat boots to Ukraine, in a statement from Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. Britain last month donated 2,000 small anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian army, one of many arms shipments from the United States and other European countries, intended to bolster Kiev’s ability to defend.

Johnson said he had agreed with the NATO chief “a package of support measures” to boost Britain’s military contribution to the alliance’s Eastern European members. Britain would “double the presence” of troops in Estonia, Johnson said, where the UK is contributing 900 troops to a NATO battlegroup it leads.

Labor leader Keir Starmer visited NATO headquarters hours after Johnson. Writing in the Guardian, he said Labor ‘stands by the UK government’s approach of standing united with our allies in the face of aggression abroad’ – but accused ministers of failing to do so enough to combat the flow of Russian “dirty money” into the UK. .

Diplomatic efforts also continued. Stoltenberg said he sent a letter earlier Thursday to Lavrov offering to discuss greater transparency around the exercises, as well as nuclear arms control. “We are ready to listen to Russia’s concerns,” he said, adding that NATO was ready for a “serious conversation on arms control.”

Wallace is due to travel to Moscow for consultations with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Friday. Other European leaders and officials also commute between Moscow and Kyiv. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is expected in Moscow next week.

But expectations for the meetings are limited as Russia has made maximalist demands on NATO to withdraw its troops from member states and pledge never to accept Ukraine into the alliance.