The UK has begun pulling staff and their families from the British embassy in Ukraine as Boris Johnson warns Russia is planning a “lightning war that could take out Kyiv.”
The Foreign Office said on Monday “some embassy staff and dependants are being withdrawn from Kyiv in response to the growing threat from Russia”.
Mr Johnson warned President Vladimir Putin that an invasion of Ukraine would be a "disastrous step" which could see Russia bogged down in a bloody and protracted conflict.
The Prime Minister said he did not believe war was inevitable and there was a chance that "sense can still prevail".
But confirming the exit of some British staff from the embassy he said: "We do think it prudent to make some changes now.
"The intelligence is very clear that there are 60 Russian battle groups on the borders of Ukraine, the plan for a lightning war that could take out Kyiv is one that everybody can see.
"We need to make it very clear to the Kremlin, to Russia, that that would be a disastrous step."
He warned that the people of Ukraine would resist any invasion and "from a Russian perspective, (it) is going to be a painful, violent and bloody business".
"I think it's very important that people in Russia understand that this could be a new Chechnya."
Non-essential US embassy staff have also been told they can leave and US citizens have been urged to do the same.
The British Embassy remains open and we will be continuing with our work alongside 🇺🇦 partners. https://t.co/7E95GnNQl2
— Melinda Simmons (@MelSimmonsFCDO) January 24, 2022
Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said on Monday that 30 diplomats remained in Ukraine including the British Ambassador.
Melinda Simmons, the ambassador, said on Twitter: “The British Embassy remains open and we will be continuing with our work alongside Ukraine partners.”
Mr Johnson’s spokesman warned Moscow not to show any further signs of aggression.
Speaking on Monday lunchtime he said: "Working with our Nato allies and others we are united in making clear this would be a massive strategic mistake with significant consequences. We are ready to act."
He also said that while there were some British military personnel were involved in training Ukrainian forces, there were "absolutely no plans to send UK combat troops to Ukraine".
In a statement the US embassy said: “Military action by Russia could come at any time” and said officials “will not be in a position to evacuate American citizens in such a contingency, so US citizens currently present in Ukraine should plan accordingly”.
The State Department added: “The security conditions, particularly along Ukraine’s borders, in Russia-occupied Crimea, and in Russia-controlled eastern Ukraine, are unpredictable and can deteriorate with little notice. Demonstrations, which have turned violent at times, regularly occur throughout Ukraine, including in Kyiv.”
Russia has denied having any plans for military action in Ukraine.
The move had been under consideration for some time and does not reflect an easing of US support for Ukraine, officials stressed.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused Nato countries of escalating tensions around Ukraine with disinformation.
The Foreign Office took the unusual step of naming former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as a potential Kremlin candidate.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said: “The information being released today shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking.
“Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy.”
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs tweeted on Sunday that the Foreign Office was “circulating disinformation” and urged it to “cease these provocative activities” and “stop spreading nonsense”.