Foreign Secretary Liz Truss issues a warning as Russian President Vladimir Putin is due to address his country’s security council, after it emerged he had agreed in principle to talks at a summit with US President Joe Biden.
News reporter
Monday 21 February 2022 13:00, UK
The UK and NATO allies are “stepping up preparations for the worst case scenario” over the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said.
Following talks with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, Ms Truss warned Russian military action against its neighbour “looks highly likely” but stressed “diplomacy must be pursued”.
The foreign secretary added on Twitter: “The UK and allies are stepping up preparations for the worst case scenario.
“We must make the cost for Russia intolerably high.”
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Met @jensstoltenberg @NATO. Diplomacy must be pursued but a Russian invasion of Ukraine looks highly likely. The UK and allies are stepping up preparations for the worst case scenario. We must make the cost for Russia intolerably high. pic.twitter.com/RNXGSaQBAQ
Ms Truss’s warnings came as Russian President Vladimir Putin was due to address his country’s security council, after it emerged he had agreed in principle to talks at a summit with US President Joe Biden.
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The security council address is “not a regular session”, the Kremlin has said.
Any US-Russia talks would be brokered by the French and would centre on “security and strategic stability in Europe”, as well as offering a possible path out of one of the most dangerous crises for the continent in decades.
Washington said the meeting would only take place if an invasion hasn’t happened, and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned: “We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war.”
Further details on what would be discussed at the summit are set to be worked out by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they meet on Thursday – but again, these talks are on the condition that the Kremlin doesn’t invade Ukraine.
Yesterday, Russia rescinded on an earlier pledge to pull thousands of troops back from Ukraine’s northern border – with US leaders claiming this move puts Moscow one step closer to an invasion.
Military exercises in Belarus involving an estimated 30,000 Russian soldiers had been due to end on Sunday, but these drills have now been extended.
This continued deployment has raised concerns that the personnel could be used to sweep down on the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, which is less than a three-hour drive away.
It comes as the US said it had received credible information that Russia is planning to kill and arrest Ukrainians after an invasion – and already has a list of targets.
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A letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warns Russian dissidents in exile would likely be vulnerable – along with journalists, anti-corruption activists, religious and ethnic minorities, and the LGBT community.
Ambassador Bathsheba Nell Crocker wrote that targets may also be sent to camps following a military occupation, adding: “We also have credible information that Russian forces will likely use lethal measures to disperse peaceful protests or otherwise counter peaceful exercises of perceived resistance from civilian populations.”
The letter – confirmed by NBC News and Reuters – comes as a US official claims that Russian frontline commanders have been given orders to begin final preparations for an attack on Ukraine.
That intelligence is said to have informed the White House’s belief that Moscow intends to commence a “full-scale assault” very soon.
But the Kremlin has said these reports are “an absolute lie”.
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In other developments, the US embassy in Moscow has urged Americans in Russia to take greater caution – and “have evacuation plans that do not rely on US government assistance”.
Separatist leaders are also continuing to evacuate civilians out of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk as shelling intensifies.
Leaders in Ukraine and the West fear these areas could be the flashpoint in igniting conflict.
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Early on Monday, Russian-backed rebels claimed two civilians were killed in shelling by Kyiv government forces, according to a report by the RIA news agency.
In an interview on Sunday, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “When tension is escalated to the maximum, as it is now, for example, on the line of contact, then any spark, any unplanned incident or any minor planned provocation can lead to irreparable consequences.”
Ukraine’s border is currently surrounded on three sides by an estimated 150,000 Russian soldiers – as well as warplanes and equipment.
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Yesterday, the US secretary of state told CNN: “Everything we are seeing suggests this is dead serious … Until the tanks are actually rolling, and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward.”
Boris Johnson spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron by phone on Sunday, and agreed that the coming week will be “crucial for diplomacy”.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said the prime minister stressed that “Ukraine’s voice must be central in any discussions”.
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