Russia war fears: Vladimir Putin plotting ‘large-scale escalation’ in Ukraine conflict

Ukraine invasion fears as Putin faces Covid backlash in Russia

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Kyiv told parliament on Friday Russia had massed more than 94,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. The defence minister said they were ready to fight back if Moscow launched an attack, even though they would not do anything to provoke the situation.

Ukranian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said: “Our intelligence analyses all scenarios, including the worst.

“It notes that the likelihood of a large-scale escalation from Russia exists.

“The most likely time to reach readiness for an escalation will be the end of January.”

Ukraine and its Nato allies have previously raised concerns over Russia’s troop movements but Vladimir Putin’s government denies any intentions of attacking Kyiv.

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In fact, it accuses Ukraine of its own military build-up, saying it might be preparing to launch an offensive in the eastern side of the country.

The Kremlin’s foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov said: “It’s nonsense, there is not any escalation.

“We have the right to move the troops on our territory.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks at a security conference in Sweden on Thursday.

Mr Blinken warned Mr Lavrov of “serious consequences” if Russia sought conflict with Ukraine.

He told the media after the conference: “I made very clear our deep concerns and our resolve to hold Russia responsible for its actions, including our commitment to work with European allies to impose severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine.

“It’s now on Russia to de-escalate the current tensions by reversing the recent troop buildup, returning forces to normal peacetime positions and refraining from further intimidation and attempts to destabilise Ukraine.”

Moscow views Kyiv’s tight relations with Nato members as a threat, and Mr Putin said earlier this week his government would seek US guarantees that Nato will limit its presence in Ukraine, which is not part of the security alliance, and not allow the country to join the alliance.

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But Ukraine, seemingly unbothered by Russia’s fears of Nato’s involvement in their conflict, has this week pressed its EU and Nato allies to prepare a package of sanctions to fend off a Russian offensive.

Mr Reznikov confirmed Ukraine was pushing ahead with the construction of two naval bases on its south coast as part of a defence deal with Britain.

He said: “Among the priorities are the missile programme and the development of the fleet.

“We are moving on to the practical stage of building two military bases, in Berdyansk and Ochakiv, and other contracts within the framework of agreements with the United Kingdom.”

Russia and Ukraine share a complicated and competitive history, they formed the two biggest republics of the Soviet Union until its 1991 collapse.

On Thursday, in the context of the talks on Ukraine with his Russian counterpart, Mr Blinken said it was “likely” US President Joe Biden would speak with Mr Putin “directly in the near future”.

On Friday, the Kremlin said work is underway to arrange a video call between the two presidents.

It will be the first time they meet since their summit in June in Geneva, where they already discussed the build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border.

Addressing the Ukrainian parliament, Mr Reznikov added: “Escalation is a likely scenario, but not inevitable, and our task is to prevent it.

“We must make the price of escalation unacceptable for the aggressor.”

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