The Deputy Prime Minister said Moscow poses a clear threat to Ukrainian democracy and there is a “very significant risk” it will also invade the country after sending 100,000 troops to the border. Mr Raab urged Russian president Vladimir Putin to “step back from the brink”, warning Moscow faces “very serious severe consequences” if there is an incursion. He said: “We are standing shoulder to shoulder [with Nato and Ukraine], saying there will be very serious consequences if Russia takes this move to try and invade, but also install a puppet regime [in Kiev].
“We wouldn’t telegraph all of the measures we would take, but it is important that this very clear message, not just from the UK but from all Nato and other interested countries around the world who want to uphold the rule of law, that there will be very serious, severe economic consequences.
“It will obviously involve a range of financial and economic sanctions… you can rest assured that the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary will be liaising with all of our partners and engaging, to make sure the response is robust and concerted. At the same time, what we really want is to get this message so clearly to Moscow so President Putin walks away from the brink.”
Mr Raab said world leaders need to be “very clear” that invasion would not be “cost-free, that there would be a price”. He said it would be “extremely unlikely” that Britain would send in combat troops but could do everything “short of it”.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss revealed at the weekend British intelligence showed President Putin was plotting to install a pro-Moscow leader in Kiev and named former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as a potential Kremlin candidate to take over.
Mr Murayev, a media owner, lost his seat in the Ukrainian parliament when his party failed to secure five per cent of the vote in elections in 2019. The Foreign Office named other Ukrainian politicians who it believes have links with the Russian intelligence services.
It said some of them had been in contact with Russian intelligence officers working on the invasion plan. They include Mykola Azarov who served as prime minister under the pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych who was toppled in a popular uprising in 2014.
Mr Azarov fled to Russia where he established what was widely seen as a puppet government-in-exile. Vladimir Sivkovich, the former deputy head of the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council was also named. Labour said it is “completely unified” with the Government on its approach to Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said: “I think that what is really important – and Putin knows this – is that we have to be completely unified on this.
“We have to be strong and we have to be unified, whether it is in Nato, our surrounding allies, and we have to play our part as the opposition also in making sure we in Britain stand unified against this threat.” Ms Thornberry also called for the Government to utilise a “new generation of sanctions”, including investigating the “unexplained wealth” of Putin allies living in the UK.
Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, said he believes Britain’s intelligence on the plot to install a puppet government. He said: “I do believe that. It’s not the first time they’re trying to do so, historically is put and in recent times.”
Mr Prystaiko said Ukraine is “prepared to fight”, but said the country is not well-equipped for a prolonged conflict. He said the issue is whether it would be a “full-scale invasion” or “smaller things just to annoy us and the rest of the world to show his [Putin’s] strength”.
Mr Prystaiko said Ukraine would like to join the European Union and Nato, adding: “That’s what we made clear eight years ago and that’s why Russians came, and it didn’t change our resolve even an inch.” He said he was “disappointed” in the response so far from Nato.
“Nobody is preparing their forces,” he said. “They’re not moving even towards their own borders right now, still believing in a peaceful diplomatic resolution.” He said Germany is “somehow in the mode of trying to befriend Russians”.
“I don’t know if it’s because they’re buying most of the Russian gas or they like the fur coats or something else from Russia,” he said Meanwhile, the US continued to ship military aid promised by President Joe Biden to Ukraine amid the stand-off with Russia.
The first supplies landed in Kiev on Friday including “close to 200,000 pounds of lethal aid, including ammunition for the front line defenders of Ukraine”. Yesterday, airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron were seen loading ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine at Dover Air Force Base, in Delaware, US.
Washington has also endorsed a move by the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to send US-made weapons to Ukraine. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on Saturday to salute the three Nato nations and former Soviet republics “for their longstanding support to Ukraine”.