Boris Johnson warns Russian invasion would ‘shake the foundations of international order’
The UK and Nato are both sceptical over Russian claims about the withdrawal of troops, with Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warning that Vladimir Putin’s forces still had the capacity to overwhelm Ukraine.
The Prime Minister discussed the crisis with his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida on Wednesday and the leaders agreed the situation was “deeply concerning”.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said: “Both agreed that the international community needed to stand united against an invasion of an independent country, and said they would not tolerate Russia’s aggression.
“An invasion would shake the foundations of international order, and have severe consequences, they agreed.
“Both leaders pledged to work together to tackle the threats of today and tomorrow, through close defence technology collaboration and their shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
Russia’s defence ministry has claimed troops are returning to base following the conclusion of military exercises, with units crossing out of Crimea on Wednesday.
However, the Defence Secretary Mr Wallace warned Moscow will be judged by its actions but said he has not seen “evidence of withdrawal”.
Reports based on US intelligence sources had suggested Wednesday could see the Russian president launch his invasion, but Mr Wallace said he has never talked about a specific date when troops might cross the border.
He told Sky News: “I’ve never talked about a date because in all the intelligence I’ve seen dates are not the issue, the issue here is the significant amount of forces.”
Mr Wallace added “there are definitely dates in the mix” and the Russians “haven’t taken the foot off the gas”.
The senior minister said Nato will work to “reduce tension and try and de-escalate” but Russia has a “force that would overwhelm Ukraine should it be deployed”.
He said there are more than 100 battalion tactical groups of the Russian ground forces – some “60% of the entire Russian land combat power” – on the borders of Ukraine.
Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg insisted “we have not seen any withdrawal of Russian forces”.
He said: “We will continue to convey a very clear message to Russia that we are ready to sit down and discuss with them but at the same time we are prepared for the worst.
“And if Russia once again invades Ukraine, they will pay a high price.”
It came as the former MI6 chief Sir John Sawers suggested the risk of an invasion “was never quite as high as was being portrayed by some western governments”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think that President Putin ever decided to invade the country and, indeed, I think it would always have been a very risky course for him to have taken.”
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova mocked the West over suggestions an invasion could take place on Wednesday.
She added: “Even the withdrawal of a number of Russian units to their permanent duty stations after the end of the exercises was presented as a cunning manoeuvre designed to divert attention from the impending invasion.”
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