UK urges European allies to ready Russia sanctions over Ukraine

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British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks outside Downing Street in London,
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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain urged its European allies on Tuesday to have sanctions ready to go if Russia invades Ukraine and said Western unity was vital to deter Moscow.

NATO said on Monday it was putting forces on standby and reinforcing eastern Europe with more ships and fighter jets in response to a Russian troop build-up near Ukraine.

"We have a hard-hitting package of sanctions ready to go and what I think it would be fair to say is we want to see our European friends ready to deploy that package as soon as there should be any incursion at all by Russia into Ukraine," British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement to parliament.

"It is absolutely vital that ... the West is united now, because it is our unity now that will be much more effective in deterring any Russian aggression."

He said Britain was discussing banning Russia - which denies it plans to attack Ukraine - from the Swift global payments system with the United States.

The European Union has threatened "massive" sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine but member states differ over what action to take. Germany has urged Europe and the United States to think carefully when considering sanctions.

Commending Chancellor Olaf Scholz's response over Ukraine, Johnson described the "extreme delicacy" of Germany's position because of its reliance on Russian gas.

"Germany is absolutely critical for our success in this," he said. "We've just got to keep the pressure up together."

Johnson said Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to recreate Soviet-era "spheres of influence" and must be prevented from doing so.

"We cannot bargain away the vision of a Europe whole and free that emerged in those amazing years from 1989 to 1991," Johnson said, referring to the end of Communist rule in eastern Europe and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Healing the division of our continent by the Iron Curtain, we will not reopen that divide by agreeing to overturn the European security order because Russia has placed a gun to Ukraine's head."

He urged NATO countries to be careful to avoid provoking an invasion and said the "right package" was "economic sanctions, continuing to supply defensive weaponry, and all the other things that we're doing."

(Reporting by William James, editing by Timothy Heirtage)

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