US 'convinced' Putin will invade Ukraine but PM says world can 'avoid bloodshed'

18 February 2022, 22:30 | Updated: 19 February 2022, 00:23

The PM will tell world leaders there is "still a chance to avoid unnecessary bloodshed"
The PM will tell world leaders there is "still a chance to avoid unnecessary bloodshed". Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

The Prime Minister is set to tell world leaders there is "still a chance to avoid unnecessary bloodshed" as tension continues to mount between Russia and Ukraine.

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Boris Johnson will head to the Munich security conference on Saturday to discuss the crisis amid US warnings that an invasion of Ukraine could come within "several days".

It comes as US president Joe Biden said he is "convinced" Russian President Vladimir Putin has already decided to invade Ukraine.

During a speech at the White House, the Mr Biden told reporters that US intelligence agencies have "reason to believe" Russia will attack Kyiv imminently.

Mr Johnson previously called the situation in eastern Europe "very grim", with estimates that 150,000 Russian troops are posted around Ukraine's borders.

But the Downing Street incumbent stressed before his departure to Bavaria that "diplomacy can still prevail" if western leaders unite to demonstrate to Moscow that it would face a "high price" for any incursion.

He said: "There is still a chance to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, but it will require an overwhelming display of western solidarity beyond anything we have seen in recent history.

"Allies need to speak with one voice to stress to President Putin the high price he will pay for any further Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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"Diplomacy can still prevail.

"That is the message I will take to Munich today as we redouble our efforts to prevent a grave miscalculation which would devastate Ukraine, Russia and the rest of Europe."

Western allies have been given further cause for concern this week after intelligence reported that 7,000 troops have arrived on the border in recent days, despite the Kremlin insisting it was withdrawing some military presence.

Field hospitals and pontoon bridges have also been spotted close to the divide between the two countries, with increased activity in the separatist-held area of Ukraine, including a strong explosion being reported in the centre of the city of Donetsk on Friday.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has insisted that large-scale military exercises with Belarusian forces close to the Ukrainian border are "purely defensive" and do not represent a threat to any other country.

It comes after an explosion which Russian media claimed was a car bomb, rocked the pro-Russian separatist capital Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

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The car is reported to have blown up near the headquarters in Donetsk on Friday evening, according to Russia's state news agency, RIA Novosti.

The blast was an apparent assassination attempt targeting a top Russian separatist official, who escaped unharmed.

It comes after warnings from Western leaders of a so-called 'false flag' operation from Russia, which would involve a staged attack on Putin's separatist allies to provide a pretext for the Kremlin to send in its forces.

A mass evacuation of civilians from was also announced earlier on Friday, with a loud warning siren sounded in the centre of the city, according to a Reuters witness.

The head of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic, east Ukraine's second separatist-held region, also announced an evacuation of residents.

Meanwhile, the UK's Foreign Office announced on Friday evening that the British embassy in Ukraine's capital Kyiv will "temporarily" relocate to the west of the country amid fears over an invasion.