Back to the Cold War: Russian threat could last a generation, Minister warns

17 February 2022, 00:45 | Updated: 17 February 2022, 09:24

By Megan Hinton

Armed Forces minister James Heappey has warned the constant threat from Russia in Ukraine could last "a generation or more" as he feared it feels like we are going back to the Cold War era.

Listen to this article

Loading audio...

Speaking to Nick Ferrari at Breakfast with Tom Swarbrick, Mr Heappey said he fears troops are not moving away from the border.

Tom asked the minister about the constant threat of Russian invasion, as the build-up of troops heightens, saying it "feels like we are going back to the Cold War era".

The minister replied: "Yeah - and I think that is, whether he invades or not, I think we have to be clear that we are entering a new period of acute competition with Russia that could last a generation or more."

Mr Heappey said there are confusing messages coming from Russia, adding he fears there is still a "very imminent threat" of hostilities breaking out between Russia and Ukraine.

"My fear is that rather than seeing troops moving away from the border, which is what the Kremlin have said would happen, we've actually seen more moving towards the border," he explained.

He also said it was "unwise" for Tory MP Tobias Ellwood to travel to Ukraine amid escalating tensions in the region.

He told Tom: "I hope it doesn't encourage people to go against the travel advice."

Read more: Thousands without power but 'worst is yet to come' as blizzards and 100mph winds sweep in

Read more: British husband-to-be killed by 4m great white shark while training for charity swim

Contrary to claims by President Vladimir Putin that troops would be pulled back from the region, a senior Biden administration official has said up to 7,000 more Russian troops have been deployed near the Ukraine border in recent days.

The official said there has been a marked increase in false claims by Russians, including reports of unmarked graves of civilians allegedly killed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, statements that the US and Ukraine are developing biological or chemical weapons, and claims the West is funnelling in guerrillas.

Russia's defence ministry claimed troops are returning to base following the conclusion of military exercises near the border, with units crossing out of Crimea on Wednesday.

Lieutenant General Sir Jim Hockenhull, the Chief of Defence Intelligence, said there have been sightings of additional armoured vehicles, helicopters and a field hospital in the area.

Read more: Nato chief warns no de-escalation in Ukraine as he urges Russia to 'choose path of peace'

Read more: Andrew 'determined to attend Philip's memorial service' after £12m sex case settlement

In a statement issued late on Wednesday, he said: "Contrary to their claims, Russia continues to build up military capabilities near Ukraine.

"This includes sightings of additional armoured vehicles, helicopters and a field hospital moving towards Ukraine's borders. Russia has the military mass in place to conduct an invasion of Ukraine."

Between 130,000 and 150,000 troops had previously been estimated at the border.

The new intelligence comes ahead of foreign secretary Liz Truss' visit to Ukraine this week as diplomatic efforts continue to prevent a war in the region.

The Foreign Secretary is planning to give a speech in the capital Kyiv, where she is expected to underscore the principle of national sovereignty and call on Russia to pursue diplomacy.

Ms Truss said it was essential not to be "lulled into a false sense of security" by Moscow's claims it was beginning draw back its forces from the borders of its southern neighbour.

Read more: Danger to life weather warning issued for England as Storm Dudley hits ahead of Eunice

Read more: Police officer filmed hitting teenage football fan with baton found dead weeks before trial

The Foreign Office said Ms Truss will visit Ukraine, Poland and Germany where she is expected to reiterate the UK's call for Russia to abide by its commitments, respect Ukraine's sovereignty, and warn Moscow that pursuing a path of aggression will lead to severe economic sanctions.

On the trip, Ms Truss will meet her Ukraine counterpart, Foreign Minister Kuleba and Polish Foreign Minister Rau in a demonstration of unified support for Ukrainian sovereignty.

On Saturday, the Foreign Secretary will then attend the Munich Security Conference where the Foreign Office said she will strengthen security ties with some of the UK's key strategic allies.

In a planned speech in Ukraine's capital, MsTruss is expected to say: "We want to live in a world where people are in charge of their own future, free from aggression and coercion, where security is truly indivisible and where nations respect the sovereignty of others, and live up to their commitments.

"That means working together with our friends in Ukraine and beyond to face down threats wherever they are across the world.

"I urge Russia to take the path of diplomacy. We are ready to talk. But we are very clear - if they decide to continue down the path of aggression, there will be massive consequences bringing Russia severe economic costs and pariah status."

Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that the UK's embassy in Kyiv will remain open, despite the risk of an invasion and the decisions made by allies to close their diplomatic missions in the capital.