PM urges Putin to step back from brink of conflict in Ukraine

Russia: Ukraine invasion 'more likely than not' says Cotton

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The Prime Minister fears the crisis is now at a “critical juncture” and will hold calls with world leaders before his visit later this week. Meanwhile Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is putting the finishing touches to a sanctions package that will target Vladimir Putin’s close associates should Russia invade, as she embarks on a whistle-stop tour of European capitals. Mr Johnson wants to make Nordic and Baltic countries a key part of the Western response to the threat from Moscow. He is receiving daily intelligence briefings on the increasing build-up of Russian forces. An estimated 130,000 are now said to be massed on the border.

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.”

Ms Truss was last night speaking to counterparts in Canada and Israel about the situation, as well as other international matters.

She will be ramping up talks this week and for the rest of the month with her tour of European capitals.

A diplomatic source said: “She’s getting us as prepared as possible for an invasion while doing everything we can to stop one.

“She’s putting the final touches to our economic sanctions package, which we’ll whack the Russians with if they invade.

“It will target Putin’s cronies and the full range of interests of the Russian state.

“The PM and Liz are putting Britain front and centre of the international response to the crisis, which is where we should be.” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace will head to Brussels for a meeting of Nato defence ministers this week to discuss the crisis.

But he faced a backlash yesterday, after saying there was “whiff of Munich in the air” – a comparison to appeasing Adolf Hitler before the Second World War.

Warning an invasion was “highly likely”, he said: “It may be that he [Putin] just switches off his tanks and we all go home, but there is a whiff of Munich in the air from some in the West.”

Ukraine’s UK ambassador, Vadym Prystaiko, said: “It’s not the best time for us to offend our partners in the world, reminding them of this act which actually not bought peace but the opposite, it bought war.” Mr Prystaiko added there was “panic everywhere, not just in people’s minds but in financial markets as well”.

A source close to Mr Wallace said his comments reflected fears that if Mr Putin strikes “come what may”, then “all the diplomacy would have been a straw man”. Mr Wallace, who arrived in the UK from Moscow in the early hours of Saturday, cut short a family skiing holiday in Europe.

During an hour-long phone call on Saturday, US President Joe Biden warned Mr Putin an attack would cause “widespread human suffering” and “diminish Russia’s standing” as Britain and other allies urged citizens to flee Ukraine.

Yesterday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy invited Mr Biden to visit the country.

He said in a phone call: “I’m convinced that your arrival in Kiev in the coming days, which are crucial for stabilising the situation, will be a powerful signal and contribute to de-escalation.”

US officials have discussed intelligence that Russia was considering Wednesday as a target date to invade.

But Mr Zelensky sought to play down the threat, saying: “The best friend of our enemies is panic in our country.

“And all this information is just provoking panic and can’t help us.”

Western leaders have threatened Moscow with a damaging package of sanctions if troops cross into Ukraine, but Russian diplomats dismissed the threats.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, accused the White House of stoking “hysteria”. And Moscow’s ambassador to Sweden, Viktor Tatarintsev, told a newspaper interview: “Excuse my language, but we don’t give a s*** about all their sanctions.”

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been heightened since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014. Mr Putin has massed hundreds of thousands of troops along the countries’ border since Ukraine said it wanted to join Nato.

The Western alliance has said that it would not join fighting in Ukraine, but it has bolstered forces in neighbouring nations.

Although the Kremlin insists it is not planning an invasion, US intelligence suggests Russia could fabricate a “false flag” pretext to attack.

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs committee, said President Putin knows he cannot, because 130,000 troops “is a lot for a border raid but nowhere near enough for an occupation”.

Mr Tugendhat added: “That’s why his plan isn’t just about war, it’s about chaos. Like all the worst leaders, he’s using chaos to his own advantage.

“Division is what rulers try if they can’t achieve the co-operation that builds real strength.

“He’s trying to keep the pot simmering to keep the pressure on us and expose our divisions.”

Mr Tugendhat said tackling “dirty money” washed though London was absolutely vital.

And he said the UK should support Europe to end its dependence on Russian gas.

Meanwhile, airlines began pulling scheduled flights from Ukraine last night.

However prime minister Denys Shmyhal pledged a £436million fund to guarantee travel would continue through its airspace.

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