Russia has not ‘taken foot off the gas’ over Ukraine, Ben Wallace warns
He urged caution about the “direction of travel from the Kremlin” as efforts to resolve the crisis by diplomatic means continued.
Mr Wallace, who was in Brussels for talks with fellow Nato defence ministers, said there needed to be “clear de-escalation” by the removal of Russian troops from the border.
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.
But Mr Wallace said Russia would be judged by its actions but he had not seen “evidence of withdrawal”.
Reports based on US intelligence sources had suggested Wednesday could see Vladimir Putin launch his invasion, but Mr Wallace said he had never talked about a specific date on which troops might cross the border.
“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,” he told Sky News.
But he added “there are definitely dates in the mix” and the Russians “haven’t taken the foot off the gas”.
Mr Wallace said Nato would work to “reduce tension and try and de-escalate” but Russia had a “force that would overwhelm Ukraine should it be deployed, and I think that’s why we need to see clear de-escalation by the removal of troops at the same time as enter into discussion with Russia”.
He said there were 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.
The Defence Secretary warned that there were “130,000-plus troops, both in Belarus and indeed Ukraine, but also out at sea there’s effectively a significant flotilla of Russian and amphibious landing ships, and indeed war ships and missile ships, and from a Ukrainian point of view they’re fairly surrounded by a very large force of ready troops”.
Mr Wallace’s comments came after US President Joe Biden said there was “plenty of room for diplomacy and for de-escalation” but “an invasion remains distinctly possible”.
“If Russia attacks Ukraine, it’ll be met with overwhelming international condemnation,” he said.
“The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction.”
Mr Putin said on Tuesday that Russia did not want another war, and was open to further dialogue with the US and its Nato allies.
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