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UK accuses Putin of plotting puppet regime in Ukraine amid fears of Russian invasion
22 January 2022, 22:33 | Updated: 23 January 2022, 21:14
Britain has accused Vladimir Putin of plotting to install a pro-Moscow leader in Ukraine as he considers whether to mount an invasion against Russia's neighbour.
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The Foreign Office named former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as a potential Kremlin candidate to take over in Kyiv as well as four other Ukrainian politicians who, it said, maintained links with the Russian intelligence services.
It comes as several Western allies have warned that Russia will pay a heavy price if the thousands of troops massed on the border of Ukraine launch any kind of invasion into the country.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the Russian plotting showed the lengths to which the Kremlin was prepared go to undermine the government in Kyiv.
"The information being released today shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking," she said.
"Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy.
"As the UK and our partners have said repeatedly, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs."
In response, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on the Telegram messaging app: "The disinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is more evidence that it is the NATO countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine.
"We call on the British Foreign Office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense."
Mr Murayev, a media owner, lost his seat in the Ukrainian parliament when his party failed to secure five per cent of the vote in elections in 2019.
He is said to have previously spoken out in support of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
As for the other Ukrainian politicians with an alleged connection to the Russian intelligence services, the Foreign Office said some had been in contact with those working on the invasion plan.
They include Mykola Azarov, who served as Prime Minister under pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych, and fled to Russia where he established what was widely seen as a puppet government-in-exile.
He has been the subject of international sanctions and an Interpol "red notice" issued at the request of the Ukrainian Government.
Also on the list are: Vladimir Sivkovich, the former deputy head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, and Serhiy Arbuzov and Andriy Kluyev who both served as deputy Prime Minister under Mr Yanukovych.
The move follows Russia's agreement for talks with the UK amid the growing tensions over Ukraine.
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace extended an invitation to his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to visit London to discuss mutual security earlier this week.
Mr Shoigu instead offered to meet in Moscow, given the last bilateral defence talks between the countries took place in London.
A senior defence source said: "The Defence Secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart.
"Given the last defence bilateral between our countries was held in London in 2013, the Russian Defence minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead.
"The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and resolution to the Ukrainian crisis.
"We are in communication with the Russian Government."