Ukraine at risk as ‘not altogether obvious West would intervene if Vladimir Putin invades

Ukraine: Russian videos purport to show military withdrawing

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Boris Johnson said this afternoon that there are “mixed signals” from Russia, despite its announcement that it was removing some troops from the Ukrainian border. The Prime Minister said the latest intelligence is “not encouraging” but that talks have shown “signs of a diplomatic opening”. Intelligence, he said, suggests field hospitals are being constructed near the border in what could only be considered as “preparation for an invasion”. Russia denies an attack is being planned, despite the presence of a reported 130,000 troops along its shared border with Ukraine.

While the West has stood by Ukraine throughout the tensions, Dr Paul Flenley, an expert in Russian foreign policy and Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of Portsmouth, told that it is not explicitly clear that it would militarily intervene if President Vladimir Putin orders an attack.

He said: “If he went in and took the eastern part of Ukraine — and this is something he’s exploiting and that’s becoming increasingly obvious — there wouldn’t necessarily be unity in the West as to what to do.

“The extent to which the West would intervene to help the Ukrainians, there’s a lot of vagueness about the nature of any kind of unified Western threat, and there’s an unwillingness.

“This is all partly testing the West since the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“There appears to be an unwillingness, on the part of the US particularly, to engage directly in military ventures.

“If Putin was mad and decided to take Kiev, it’s not altogether obvious that the West would militarily do anything.”

Dr Flenley speculated possible strike sanctions, but “nothing substantial” in terms of military intervention.

He added that there is “no appetite” for military intervention.

While NATO has supplied Ukraine with arms, it has no obligation to defend the country as it is not a member of the Alliance, nor does it plan to send troops to the country.

Instead, it is bolstering its own defences in member countries from Estonia down to Bulgaria.

The US has sent some 3,000 soldiers to Poland and Romania, with a further 8,500 on heightened alert should NATO decide to deploy its Response Force.

Regarding potential sanctions, Mr Johnson today said that the UK has been “out in the lead for a while” with threatening economic sanctions on Russia.

He said: “What we’re doing is targeting particular Russian banks, Russian companies, and making sure that we take steps or take even more steps to unpeel the facade of Russian property holdings, whether in London or elsewhere.

“Unpeel the facade of Russian ownership of companies and also take steps to stop Russian companies from raising capital on London financial markets.

“Now that is a very, very tough package of sanctions. It’s ready to go if Russia is so rash, so reckless as to invade Ukraine.”

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However, it would appear that these sanctions would come as little deterrence to Putin and the Kremlin.

Viktor Tatarintsev, Russia’s ambassador to Sweden, gave an interview to Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet over the weekend where he claimed that Russia did not care about any prospective sanctions.

He said: “Excuse my language, but we don’t give a s*** about all their sanctions.

“We have already had so many sanctions and in that sense, they’ve had a positive effect on our economy and agriculture.”

He added: “New sanctions are nothing positive but not as bad as the West makes it sound.

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“The more the West pushes Russia, the strong the Russian response will be.”

He did, however, seek to clarify that “the last thing people in Russia want is war”.

Dr Flenley echoed such sentiments, saying an invasion would have “enormous” repercussions within Russia itself.

He said: “Psychologically, the consequences would be enormous. It wouldn’t fit well with the whole rhetoric of Ukrainians as our brothers, and they should be part of a wider association.

“An invasion of Ukraine would just be a disaster for all that ideology that Putin has.”

Dr Flenley explained that holding Kiev and establishing an alternative government would be logistically enormous, especially against Ukrainian resistance.

He added: “Kiev is very different from eastern Ukraine where there’s a degree of support for Russia and relative alienation from Kiev.

“But to take Kiev itself would be seen to be madness really, and would have repercussions for Russia at home.

“People would start complaining, ‘What are we doing invading our brothers in Kiev? We’re supposed to be brothers with the Ukrainians’.”

For the moment, life in Kiev appears relatively normal.

However, the city’s mayor Vitaly Klichko said on Saturday that local authorities had approved an evacuation plan in case of a possible invasion.

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