A Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “disastrous”, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has warned her counterpart in Moscow as diplomatic activity intensified to ease the crisis.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has flown to Brussels for talks with NATO’s chief before heading to Poland to offer support to eastern European allies.
The UK has put 1000 troops on standby in case of a humanitarian crisis in the east if the current Russian military build-up leads to war.
Ms Truss used a meeting with counterpart Sergei Lavrov to call on Russia to abandon “Cold War rhetoric” and avoid war.
“The reality is we cannot ignore the build-up of over 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border and the attempts to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity,” she said.
“Fundamentally, a war in Ukraine would be disastrous for the Russian and Ukrainian people, and for European security. And, together, Nato has made it clear that any incursion into Ukraine would have massive consequences and carry severe costs.”
She urged Vladimir Putin’s administration to respect the Budapest memorandum signed in 1994, which committed the UK, US and Russia to respect and uphold Ukrainian independence.
“If these principles are respected, I believe that, in today’s talks, we can make progress to strengthen security for all,” she told Lavrov.
Mr Johnson was meeting NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on Thursday before flying to Poland.
British officials have warned that any further Russian incursion into Ukraine would be a “humanitarian disaster” leading to a mass displacement of people, which would particularly affect countries like Poland and Lithuania.
Additional troops are being placed on readiness to provide a humanitarian response if required, although they could also be used to provide further support to allies in the region.
What is Nato and why doesn't Russia trust it?https://t.co/EDCfJ1gbD6
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) February 10, 2022
Meanwhile, 350 Royal Marines from 45 Commando are to begin deploying to Poland as part of a further strengthening of UK support to the country announced earlier this week.
In December the UK sent 100 Royal Engineers to the country after Moscow’s ally, Belarus, engineered a refugee crisis on the border.
Ahead of his visit to Warsaw, Mr Johnson insisted the West must stand firm in the face of Mr Putin’s “coercive diplomacy”.
He made clear that Nato could not accept a key Kremlin demand that there should be no further enlargement of the alliance.
“As an alliance we must draw lines in the snow and be clear there are principles upon which we will not compromise,” he said.
“That includes the security of every Nato ally and the right of every European democracy to aspire to Nato membership.”
Mr Johnson was expected to reiterate an offer to strengthen Nato’s defences.
It includes doubling the number of UK troops in Estonia, deploying more RAF jets to create a squadron in southern Europe, and dispatching a Type 45 destroyer and HMS Trent, an offshore patrol vessel, to the eastern Mediterranean.
Russia currently has an estimated 130,000 troops massed along the border with Ukraine, prompting fears it is preparing for a full-scale invasion.
While there is no appetite among Western powers for direct military intervention in Ukraine, which is not a Nato member, they have warned of crippling sanctions in the event of any Russian incursion.