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‘Mixed signals’ on Russian invasion of Ukraine, says Johnson amid report it could commence at 1am tomorrow

  • Russia has preparations in place to invade ‘at virtually any time’
  • ‘Intelligence we are seeing today is still not encouraging’
  • Reports of invasion as soon as tomorrow morning
  • Russia says it has withdrawn some troops from training drills and has sent them back to base
  • West threatens Kremlin with sanctions

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Russian tank is loaded onto railway platforms after the end of military drills in South Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russian tank is loaded onto railway platforms after the end of military drills in South Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russian tank is loaded onto railway platforms after the end of military drills in South Russia. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

BORIS JOHNSON has said there are “mixed signals” coming out of Russia about the prospect of an invasion of Ukraine after Moscow claimed to be withdrawing troops from near the border.

The UK prime minister said the intelligence he has received is not encouraging, with the construction of field hospitals and the movement of extra forces closer to the border with Ukraine suggesting preparations are being made for an invasion.

Following a meeting of the UK Cobra emergency committee, Mr Johnson suggested there is a “diplomatic opening” to resolve the crisis without a war.

But the Russians have the preparations in place to launch an invasion at “virtually any time”, he added.

Speaking to reporters in Downing Street, Mr Johnson said: “Last night going into today clearly there are signs of a diplomatic opening.”

But he added that the “intelligence that we are seeing today is still not encouraging”, with Russian field hospitals being built close to Belarus’s border with Ukraine.

That could only be “construed as preparation for an invasion”, the prime minister said.

Russia’s defence ministry said some troops and equipment were returning to base from areas close to the border with Ukraine following the conclusion of military exercises.

But Mr Johnson said intelligence suggests “you have got more battalion tactical groups being brought closer to the border”.

“So mixed signals, I think, at the moment,” he said.

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Responding to reports that US intelligence sources believe an invasion could commence at 3am local time – 1am in Ireland and the UK – on Wednesday, Mr Johnson said: “We think they have a huge preparation ready to go at virtually any time. 130,000 troops or more, a huge number of battalions – more than 90 battalion tactical groups – and they are stationed around the Ukrainian border.”

He suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin could order a strike from Belarus, through eastern Ukraine or up from southern Ukraine through Odesa and Kherson.

“There are a lot of options that they have,” he said.

Mr Putin said today that Russia had been told that Ukraine would not join Nato in the near future, but that Moscow did not think that was a good enough assurance and wanted to resolve the matter in its entirety now.

Russia is campaigning for security guarantees from the West.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that after a meeting with Mr Putin, some aspects of Moscow's demands over Ukraine were worth considering.

"It was right that Nato and the European Union responded to the letters from Russia, and while Russia does not agree with the response, it is a good sign that it says there are a few good points in it," said Mr Scholz at a joint news conference.

"Likewise, Nato, the EU and we do not agree with the demands of Russia, but we believe there are some points in there that are worth discussing," he said, adding that an eastward expansion of Nato was not currently on the agenda.

UK foreign secretary Liz Truss suggested a “false flag” operation could be launched within days to give Moscow the pretext to launch an offensive.

Meanwhile Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said: “While recent reports of a move towards de-escalation on the ground – if confirmed – are welcome, it is urgent that Russia de-escalate, abide by international law and engage constructively in dialogue.

"My department’s advice in respect of Ukraine remains not to traveI. I encourage any Irish citizen in Ukraine who has not already done so to register with the Embassy. Citizens currently in the country should leave now using available commercial options.”

So far 114 Irish citizens currently in Ukraine have registered with the Irish Embassy in Kiev and the Department of Foreign Affairs is in ongoing contact with them.

Mr Coveney said the department is also in close contact with families who have surrogacy arrangements in Ukraine, and is continuing to provide support and assistance to them on an individual basis. 

Mr Johnson said the UK’s embassy in Kiev will remain open, despite the risk of an invasion and the decisions made by allies to close their diplomatic missions in the capital.

“We have to face the fact that there is a risk. We’ll keep it under constant review,” he said.

Mr Johnson called on Russia to withdraw its battalions away from the “potential theatre of conflict” and give “a sense that things are being scaled back, scaled down, that the threat is over and that a conversation and negotiation is beginning”.

He warned that if Russia does invade, a tough package of sanctions will target Russian money in the UK.

That means “Russian banks, Russian companies” and taking extra steps to “unpeel the facade” of Russian property holdings and corporate ownership in the UK.

It would also prevent Russian firms from raising capital on London’s financial markets.

Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said there is cause for “cautious optimism” in resolving the Ukraine crisis peacefully.

But he also questioned Russia’s claims to have withdrawn troops, telling a press conference in Brussels: “So far we have not seen any de-escalation on the ground – not seen any signs of reduced Russian military presence on the borders of Ukraine.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said military drills are held “on (Russia’s) own territory and according to its own plans – they start, go on and end as planned”.

The exercises are held to a schedule regardless of “who thinks what and who gets hysterical about it, who is deploying real informational terrorism”, he said.

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said: “When we see troops pulling out, we’ll believe in de-escalation.”


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