With fears a Russian move is just days away, the UK moves to double nearby troop numbers
Britain is preparing to double the number of troops deployed to Estonia and dispatch warships and jets to Nato’s eastern flank to “send a clear message” to Moscow, amid warnings Russia could be days away from invading Ukraine.
Boris Johnson, who is due to hold crisis talks with Vladimir Putin tomorrow, ordered the UK Armed Forces to “prepare to deploy across Europe” last night in an effort to deter an attack and reassure Nato’s eastern members.
“This package will send a clear message to the Kremlin — we will not tolerate their destabilising activity, and we will always stand with our Nato allies in the face of Russian hostility,” the prime minister said.
“If President Putin chooses a path of bloodshed and destruction, it will be a tragedy for Europe. Ukraine must be free to choose its own future.”
The offer, which will be finalised with Nato allies in Brussels this week, would deploy an additional 900-strong battle group of British troops plus a battery of deep fire rocket artillery to Estonia.
The current battle group, which was due to leave, will remain in place, bringing the British contingent to more than 1,800 troops.
Apache helicopters would also be deployed to the region along with a Type-45 destroyer and an offshore patrol vessel. An additional RAF squadron would be deployed to Cyprus to patrol Bulgarian and Romanian airspace.
The HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier has been placed on standby to deploy should the situation escalate.
James Heappey, UK Armed Forces Minister, today warned Mr Putin “could be days away from giving the order to invade”.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he says: “Our Nato allies will understandably feel threatened by his aggression in Ukraine and so we’ll reinforce their eastern borders rather than stepping away as he demands. [Putin] will have encouraged precisely the thing he claims to fear. Mr Johnson will visit the Ukraine region early next week as part of a diplomatic scramble to prevent a conflict.”
Liz Truss, the British Foreign Minister, and Ben Wallace, the Defence Minister, are both expected to fly to Moscow for consultations with their counterparts in the next two weeks.
Ms Truss said the move was in part a response to Russia’s own recent deployments.
Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, she says: “Russia has intensified its brinkmanship by planning naval exercises off the Irish coast and increasing its naval presence in the Baltic Sea, prompting Sweden to send troops to reinforce one of its islands.
“That is why we are reinforcing our diplomatic efforts with deterrence.”
It came as Florence Parly, France’s Defence Minister, said he would send several hundred soldiers to Ukraine’s neighbour Romania, where Nato already has a multinational land force of up to 4,000 troops.
Russia has massed upwards of 127,000 soldiers near its border with Ukraine and in neighbouring Belarus, in what the British and American governments say is preparation for an imminent invasion.
The United Nations Security Council will meet to discuss the crisis tomorrow.
Admiral Tony Radakin, the UK Chief of the Defence Staff, briefed Mr Johnson on the current military situation in Ukraine yesterday. Mr Putin has denied planning a war, but has threatened to take unspecified “military technical” measures if US President Joe Biden does not deliver on a number of ultimatums, including a demand Nato reduce its posture in eastern Europe and never to admit any more members from the former Soviet Union. The US ambassador to Moscow handed over a written American response to the Russian demands on Wednesday. The document has not been made public.
On Friday Mr Putin told President Emmanuel Macron of France the written responses ignored Russia’s main concerns about Nato expansion.
The Kremlin has said it will issue a formal response when it has had time to analyse the proposals.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki yesterday warned Putin’s aggression towards Ukraine must be stopped for the sake of Europe.
“Putin’s dream is to rebuild Russia’s imperial power and we must block this. Otherwise, it will become a nightmare for all of us,” he said.
Western governments have threatened Moscow with powerful economic sanctions if an invasion occurs.
But the crisis has created splits in Nato, with Germany leading resistance to drastic options such as cutting Russia off from the Swift international payments system and rejecting appeals from Kyiv for weapons.
Britain and the US have provided Ukraine with infantry weapons but stopped short of providing the advanced air defence systems Ukraine has requested. Rifts have also grown between Western capitals and Kyiv, where some officials suspect the war scare is being played up in order to push Ukraine to make concessions on a controversial peace deal signed in 2015.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukriane on Friday called for calm and accused US president Joe Biden of whipping up a panic that threatened to do lasting damage to the country’s economy.
Ukrainian defence officials have contradicted public statements from the Pentagon saying their own intelligence suggests the Russian force is insufficient for a full scale invasion and not yet in a battle ready posture.
Britain has maintained a battle group in Estonia since 2017 as part of Nato’s response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and war in east Ukraine.
The Enhanced Forward Presence also includes multi-national battle groups in Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
© Telegraph Media Group Ltd (2022)
Telegraph Media Group Limited