Ukraine: Europe must 'prepare for the worst' on fears of Russian invasion, says Nato
The Nato secretary-general has warned that Europe "must prepare for the worst" amid fears over a Russian invasion into neighbouring Ukraine.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is meeting Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels on Thursday amid heightened tensions in Ukraine, after Russian president Vladimir Putin called his country "one of the leading nuclear states".
He warned Europe not to get involved in any potential fight, saying: "There will be no winners, and you will be pulled into this conflict against your will."
Stoltenberg warned that the build-up of Russian troops on the border was a "dangerous moment for European security", adding the "number of Russian forces is going up" and the "warning time for a possible attack is going down".
Johnson reiterated his comments, saying: "The stakes are very high."
He added that although he did not think president Putin has decided to invade the Ukraine, it "doesn't mean it is impossible that something absolutely disastrous could happen very soon indeed".
Johnson added that the available intelligence "remains grim".
The UK has put 1,000 soldiers on standby on Europe's borders to respond to any crisis.
The PM said: “I honestly don’t think a decision has yet been taken but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible that something absolutely disastrous could happen very soon indeed.
“Our intelligence, I’m afraid to say, remains grim. We’re seeing the massing of huge numbers of tactical battalion groups on the border with Ukraine.
“This is probably the most dangerous moment in the course of the next few days in what is the biggest security crisis Europe has faced for decades.”
Johnson did not rule out going further in giving Ukraine military support in the event of an invasion.
Asked at the press conference in Brussels if he could authorise military support to an insurgency in Ukraine in the event of an invasion, the PM said: “We will consider what more we can conceivably offer.
"The Ukrainians are well prepared, there are things we’ve offered that they in fact don’t seem to need because they think they have them in enough numbers already.
“It’s possible, I don’t want to rule this out, but at the moment we think the package is the right one. But I want to stress it would be an absolute disaster if it was to come to that and if there was to be serious bloodshed on Ukrainian soil.”
The UK has been attempting to diffuse the situation, and foreign secretary Liz Truss flew to Moscow on Thursday to meet with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
But the meeting went anything less than smooth, with Lavrov afterwards accusing the British delegation of grandstanding and failing to listen.
He told media after: "I’m honestly disappointed that what we have is a conversation between a dumb and a deaf person.
"It seems like we listen but don’t hear. At least, our most detailed explanations fell on unprepared soil.
"They say Russia is waiting until the ground freezes like a stone so its tanks can easily cross into Ukrainian territory.
"I think the ground was like that today with our British colleagues, from which numerous facts that we produced bounced off."
Johnson later travelled to Poland to meet with Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki,
He said the two nations will not accept a world where a “powerful neighbour can bully or attack” others in issuing a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking in Warsaw, the Prime Minister said: “We need to work together now to achieve de-escalation, to persuade Vladimir Putin to de-escalate and to disengage.
“We won’t accept, Poland and the UK, won’t accept a world in which a powerful neighbour can bully or attack their neighbours.”
Johnson said 350 Royal Marines from 45 Commando had now arrived in Poland, joining 150 personnel already in the country.
“They are standing shoulder to shoulder with our Polish counterparts to bring stability and security not just to Poland but to Europe and, indeed, I would say to the world.”
European nations have been in talks with Russia for weeks amid growing numbers of troops on Ukraine's border.
Putin and French president Emmanuel Macron met earlier this week, and it was reported that Putin had agreed to de-escalate.
However, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, denied those claims.
“This is wrong in its essence. Moscow and Paris couldn’t do any deals. It’s simply impossible,” Peskov said, insinuating that it would be pointless to make a deal with France.
Peskov added: “France is a leading country in the EU, France is a member of Nato but Paris is not the leader there. In this bloc, a very different country is in charge. So what deals can we talk about?”
After the concerns for people's safety, there are also warnings that a fight with Russia could have a knock-on effect on British energy costs.
If they were to invade Ukraine, then it would have an effect on European energy markets, which are highly dependent on oil and gas from Russia.
Neil Kenward, director of strategy and decarbonisation at Ofgem, said: "If Russia invades Ukraine, and let's say there was a sanctions regime that meant Russia limited gas to Europe, that would drive high price rises."