Russia plans to target Ukrainian capital in ‘blitzkrieg’, UK warns

NATO members began sending extra ships and fighter jets to allied countries in Eastern Europe yesterday as Boris Johnson said Russia had massed enough troops near the Ukraine for a “lightning war” in which it would try to seize Kiev.

The British Prime Minister’s comments came in response to fears of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. NATO said its members were putting military forces on standby for a potential attack.

The White House also announced that US President Joe Biden would hold a video call to discuss Ukraine later Monday with European leaders including Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Johnson said there were 60 Russian battlegroups on Ukraine’s borders, which he described as evidence of a “blitzkrieg plan that could wipe out Kiev”.

“It would be a disastrous step,” he said. For Moscow, any invasion “is going to be a painful, violent and bloody affair. I think it is very important that people in Russia understand that this could be a new Chechnya”.

Russia has deployed more than 106,000 troops near its border with Ukraine in recent months.

Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus’ strongman, said he would deploy “a whole contingent” of his army to the Ukrainian border in response to NATO force deployments in the Baltics and troop buildups in Ukraine.

“It has nothing to do with any occupation. We just want to defend our southern border,” he added.

At a meeting of EU foreign ministers and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the bloc reiterated its warning that it would impose “significant costs” on Russia in the event of an attack and said that he had “accelerated” work on these sanctions.

The EU also reaffirmed its “commitment to further support Ukraine’s resilience”, including in the areas of “professional military education”.

Over the weekend, the UK said it had evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin was seeking to install a puppet regime in Kiev.

A senior French official said: “The UK is developing very explicit, very alarmist positions. . . We must be careful not to create self-fulfilling prophecies.

While Western powers have released intelligence on Russia’s alleged intentions, Moscow has repeatedly denied its intention to invade. But the Kremlin said the risk of conflict was “very high” in the eastern border region of Donbass, where more than 14,000 people have died since 2014 in a slow-running war with Russian-backed separatists.

Regarding NATO moves, Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance’s secretary general, said: “I am happy that the allies are contributing additional forces. . . NATO will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies, including strengthening the eastern part of the alliance.

“We will always respond to any deterioration in our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defense.”

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that the West was responsible for escalating tensions by deploying more forces and issuing “false” statements about two Russian regime change plots in Ukraine.

“This is not happening because of what we, Russia, are doing. This is all happening because of what NATO and the United States are doing and the information they are giving out,” Peskov said.

Peskov added that Putin wanted to “avoid [a] similar tense situation in the future” focusing on security talks with the United States and NATO.

The United States is expected to send Russia a written response this week to its draft proposals to end NATO’s eastward expansion, cancel its deployments to Eastern European countries and to pledge never to admit Ukraine – a step that would essentially rewrite all post-Cold War security. order in Europe.

“Unfortunately, we all live in this aggressive environment. . . This is the reality we live in. Our Head of State, as Commander-in-Chief and the person who defines our foreign policy, is taking the essential steps to ensure that our security and our interests are ensured at the appropriate level,” Peskov said.

Alexander Grushko, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, accused NATO of “demonizing” Moscow to justify “unnecessary” deployments, according to Interfax.

Grushko said the specter of another Russian invasion of Ukraine “only existed in the fiery minds of the west” and was “used to demonstrate that the alliance is wanted and ready to come to the defense of its powerless allies in the face of the Russian threat”.

“The more NATO pumps to unnecessarily reinforce its eastern flank, the louder the cries against Russian aggressiveness,” Grushko said.

NATO’s statement on Monday came as several Western countries said they had taken steps to evacuate the families of Kiev-based diplomats out of the country.

Britain on Monday ordered a number of its embassy staff and their family members to leave Ukraine. The move came after the United States told family members of its embassy staff on Sunday to leave Kyiv due to the risk of “significant military action” by Russia. The United States and the United Kingdom have said their embassies will remain open.

Moscow’s Moex stock index fell more than 7.5% and Russian government debt yields hit their highest level in six years as the potential for Western sanctions prompted investors to get rid of Russian assets. The central bank intervened as the ruble edged closer to a record high against the dollar by limiting foreign currency purchases.

Gas futures linked to TTF, Europe’s wholesale gas price, jumped more than 11% to €88.40 per megawatt hour. Russia supplies around a third of Europe’s gas. The ruble lost 1.5% to trade at 78.9 to the US dollar, a 14-month low.

Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but Western officials have warned that any conflict could affect neighbors to the west.

NATO said examples of strengthening the alliance include Denmark’s previously announced decision to send a frigate to the Baltic Sea and France’s willingness to send troops to Romania.

Spain sent the Blas de Lezo de Ferrol frigate to its Atlantic coast to the Black Sea weeks ahead of schedule, for which Stoltenberg thanked Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez over the weekend.

José Manuel Albares, Spain’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times that such deployments “show Spain’s commitment to the security of Europe, whether on the eastern or southern flank”.

Additional reporting by Daniel Dombey in Madrid

Christi C. Elwood