Russia rages at Britain's Ukraine plot – as likely invasion date revealed


Russia rages at Britain's Ukraine plot – as likely invasion date revealed

There is further evidence that Putin is planning a full-scale invasion. (Image: Getty Images)The move is seen by intelligence experts in both the U

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Vladimir Putin

There is further evidence that Putin is planning a full-scale invasion. (Image: Getty Images)

The move is seen by intelligence experts in both the UK and the US as further evidence that President Vladimir Putin is planning a full-scale invasion. But this is unlikely to happen before February 20, which marks the end of the Winter Olympics in China.

It emerged last night that the US State Department has ordered families of its embassy personnel living in Ukraine to start evacuating from Monday. 

The department is also expected to tell Americans in the country this week to leave via commercial  flights “while those are still available”.

Diplomats in the British Embassy in Kyiv, along with US counterparts, held meetings last week to discuss a range of options, from complete evacuation to moving the mission to the western city of Lviv, which is closer to the Polish border.

The Foreign Office last night took the unusual step of naming former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as a potential Kremlin candidate to take over in Kyiv. 

Another four co-conspirators,  all linked to the pro-Russian government which was swept away in Ukraine’s Maiden Revolution of 2014. were also named as having regular links with Russia’s intelligence services. 

The revelations were made as Western allies stepped up warnings that Russia will pay a heavy price if the estimated 150,000 troops massed on the border launch any kind of incursion into Ukraine.

In a statement, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the Russian plot showed the lengths to which the Kremlin was prepared to go in order 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.”

But if the list of names really shows the Kremlin’s thinking, then Putin is playing a weak hand, experts said last night.

Mr Murayev, a media owner, lost his seat in the Ukrainian parliament after the 2019 elections.

His co-conspirators are said to include Serhiy Arbuzov, acting Prime Minister in 2014; Andriy Kluyev, Chief of Staff to former Ukrainian ousted President Viktor Yanukovich; Vladimir Sivkovich, former Deputy Head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council (RNBO) and Mykola Azarov, who was forced to resign as Prime Minister of 2014 and is now supposedly head of a government in exile.

Liz Truss

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (Image: Bianca De Marchi-Pool/Getty Images)

Unfortunately for Putin, his decision to annex Crimea and occupy the region of Donbas with Russian proxies  in 2014 has led to the haemorrhaging of Russian support in Ukraine.
While once he could rely on almost half the popular vote, recent polls show 75 percent of Ukrainians now back stronger ties with the West while only 12 per cent look to Moscow for inspiration.

Of the five co-conspirators, only Murayev is still in Ukraine.

But his pro-Russian party gained just 3.3 per cent of the vote in the 2019 elections, failing to secure even the minimum 5 percent threshold to secure a seat in parliament.

And two days ago the US Treasury imposed fresh sanctions on Sivkovich, accusing him of being an agent of Russia’s FSB and organising destabilising activities in Ukraine since 2019.
Those sanction were imposed as the US revealed similar concerns about regime change, saying: “Russia has directed its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force”.

Last night Ukraine expert Sergej Sumlenny said: “It is perfectly possible that Russia plans to instal a puppet government, but to do it with these individuals is impossible. These men are completely burned – Russia would need to find someone Ukrainians believe in.”

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He added: “Putin will need to maintain the fig-leaf of democracy. It is more likely to be one of the many generals currently on Russia’s payroll; someone who will be able to publicly play the patriotic card while, in reality, being aligned to Moscow.”

Taras Kuzio, of the Henry Jackson Society think tank added: “All these individuals lost power in 2014 – they are on Interpol watchlists and one was only last week subjected to US sanctions.

“It seems that Whitehall now shares the US belief that a full-scale invasion is likely – because only a full-scale invasion which succeeded, followed by a heavy-handed dictatorship, would allow regime change to the extent that these individuals would assume power in Kyiv.

“Not only would everyone see through it, but these men would require permanent protection against reprisals. “

Ukrainian nationals last night vented their defiance against Russian aggression.

Recalling an unsuccessful attempt by Russian-backed separatist forces to capture the city of Kharkiv in 2014, IT programmer Anton Sergeev said: “They already were ‘welcomed’ here so they have learned it’s better to stay away. Or they will go back home in zinc coffins. And their mothers will cry.”

Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, last night warned that invasion was “imminent”, adding: “We see these combat-ready troop formations. Putin also recognises that he will never again be as strong as this to take advantage of the West’s weakness.”

But Kuzio said Putin was unlikely to pull the trigger for another month.

“We know China was upset with Putin in 2008 when the invasion of Georgia took attention away from the summer Olympics,’ he said.

“Now he is the junior partner in a new strategic partnership with Beijing, and he is unlikely to launch any invasion before February 20, when the Winter Olympics end in China.

“This would give him around three weeks before the thaw starts setting in.

“In the meantime, Russian forces are undergoing a military exercise with Belarus, and he may use the time to carefully poison his forces there.”

Truss is expected to visit Moscow in February for talks with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, while defence minister Ben Wallace will have discussion with Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu, following a frenetic period of meetings  for both in Brussels, Germany and The Hague.