Eleventh hour peace bid: PM To hold crisis talks as Russia on 'brink of war with Ukraine'

13 February 2022, 22:42 | Updated: 14 February 2022, 09:16

Boris Johnson will continue with diplomatic efforts this week
Boris Johnson will continue with diplomatic efforts this week. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

The Prime Minister is set to hold talks with world leaders this week in a last ditch attempt to bring Russia "back from the brink" of war with Ukraine.

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Boris Johnson will continue with diplomatic efforts this week despite No 10 confirming all information suggests Moscow could be planning an invasion "at any moment".

Chair of the Defence Select Committee and Tory MP Tobias Ellwood criticised the Government's handling of the crisis, saying the weapons being provided to Ukraine were insufficient and that any sanctions could actually make matters worse.

"We're saying we're supporting Ukraine with military support, we're giving them light anti-tank weapons which are 'line of sight', 600 yards," he told LBC's Tom Swarbrick.

"By [the] time you get to use these things the battlefield would have been obliterated by the heavy artillery that Russia actually has."

He said there would be "retaliatory sanctions" for anything imposed by the UK, but also that sanctions played into Putin's hands.

"Putin is aligning Russia towards China, so any sanctions that we threaten absolutely plays into his own strategy, and that's my point - we don't have a strategy," he said.

"Putin actually craves the international spotlight, so we're actually running around him and he's enjoying this."

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The MP also said the UK was 'hiding behind' the fact that Ukraine is not a member of Nato.

"Libya isn't a member of Nato and we stepped in there to avoid a bloodbath in Benghazi. Bosnia wasn't a member of Nato, Kosovo's not a member of Nato," he said.

"This idea that... there's no treaty for us to lean on, surely we have a commitment to freedom? To supporting European democracy?"

He added: "Putin smells weakness, and he's exploiting it."

Downing Street did not set out which world leaders Mr Johnson was hoping to talk to this week or where he plans to travel, but it was understood he is keen to engage with Nordic and Baltic countries.

Mr Johnson was also said to be working with allies to provide further defensive and economic support to Kyiv, with an announcement touted for the coming days.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is also set to head to Brussels for a meeting of Nato defence ministers this week to discuss their response to the crisis.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The crisis on Ukraine's border has reached a critical juncture. All the information we have suggests Russia could be planning an invasion of Ukraine at any moment.

"This would have disastrous consequences for both Ukraine and Russia.

"There is still a window of opportunity for de-escalation and diplomacy, and the Prime Minister will continue to work tirelessly alongside our allies to get Russia to step back from the brink."

The PM is understood to be receiving daily intelligence briefings from security chiefs on the increasing build-up of Russian forces.

In a sign that tensions may be escalating on Sunday evening airlines began canceling scheduled flights from Ukraine.

Dutch airline KLM suspended all flights to and from the country, amid sensitivity in the Netherlands to potential danger in Ukrainian airspace following the 2014 shooting down of jetliner MH17.

A total of 298 people aboard died in the crash including 198 Dutch citizens, with Russia being condemned as being responsible. 

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Britain believes the Kremlin is preparing to "create the circumstances" to allow Russia to invade Ukraine on the basis that troops were "responding to Ukrainian or Western aggression".

The Defence Secretary said it is "highly likely" Vladimir Putin will order an attack - despite the concerted talks to avert war.

Russia is accused of of "laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion, including through sabotage activities and information operations, by accusing Ukraine of preparing an imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine".

But today Ukraine's president played down intensified warnings of a possible Russian invasion within days, saying he has yet to see convincing evidence.

Volodymyr Zelensky repeated statements urging calm among his people - while Russian forces surround his country on three sides in what Russia insists are military exercises - grew this weekend, with Mr Zelensky questioning strident warnings from US officials in recent days that Russia could be planning to invade as soon as the middle of next week.

The US said they had picked up intelligence that Russia was looking at Wednesday as a target date, according to a United States official familiar with the findings.

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The Russians have deployed missile, air, naval and special operations forces, as well as supplies to sustain an invasion.

This week, Russia moved six amphibious assault ships into the Black Sea, augmenting its capability to land on the coast.

It comes after an hour long talk between the US president Joe Biden and Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday where the Pentagon threatened Russia with "decisive, swift and severe costs" if an invasion takes place.

The White House added that Putin was warned military action in Ukraine would "produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia's standing".

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said she spoke to US secretary of state Antony Blinken on Saturday, and shared her "acute concerns" that Russia could launch further military aggression against Ukraine within days.

She said: "We agree Russia will face massive consequences for any invasion, including severe sanctions."