Europe ‘on the brink of war’ as Russian invasion of Ukraine highly likely, warns Liz Truss

Foreign secretary offers downbeat assessment – but says Vladimir Putin could still ‘change his mind’

Adam Forrest
Tuesday 15 February 2022 08:00
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Europe ‘on the brink of war’, warns Liz Truss

A Russian invasion of Ukraine remains highly likely, British foreign secretary Liz Truss has warned, as she shared fears that “we could be on the brink of a war in Europe”.

Boris Johnson and US president Joe Biden stressed on Monday evening there remains “a crucial window for democracy” as they maintained there is still time for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

However, Ms Truss offered a downbeat assessment on Tuesday. The senior cabinet minister said the risk of “immediate” attack remains “very high”, and warned that Russian troops could advance soon on Kyiv.

When asked how quickly Russian forces could move on the Ukrainian capital, Ms Truss told Sky News: “Very, very quickly. They have troops stationed around Ukraine. So, there could be an attack on Kyiv. There could be an attack from the east.”

Ms Truss said: “It’s still the case that an invasion could be imminent and it is highly likely. What we are doing is pursuing the path of deterrence and diplomacy, urging Vladimir Putin to step back from the brink.”

The foreign secretary noted Russian president Vladimir Putin could still “change his mind”, adding: “We know or we believe that Vladimir Putin has not yet made a decision about whether to invade Ukraine.”

But she said war remained “highly likely”, warning: “This could be a long, protracted war, which would, of course, create huge damage for both the people of Ukraine and the people of Russia as well as threatening European security.”

At a made-for-television meeting with Mr Putin, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov hinted that Russia was ready to keep talking about the security grievances that have led to the crisis.

Mr Lavrov said possibilities for talks “are far from being exhausted” – noting that Washington has offered to discuss limits for missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures.

Moscow ultimately wants guarantees that Nato will not allow Ukraine to join as members.

But Ms Truss voiced scepticism about the latest Russian rhetoric. “I’m afraid that in the past we’ve seen Russia claim that things aren’t going to happen – then we saw the illegal annexation of Crimea.”

The foreign secretary echoed politicians in the US who have warned that a so-called “false flag” operation which could be used by Moscow to trigger a conflict.

She also said that Russian aggression might “not stop at Ukraine” – warning that the Kremlin could do the same with other countries in eastern Europe.

Ms Truss acknowledged that a war in Ukraine “would have a very damaging impact on oil and gas prices across Europe”, telling BBC Breakfast: “This is why we need to reduce dependence on Russian gas, find alternative sources.”

The foreign secretary also revealed that some UK embassy staff had been moved to Lviv in the west of Ukraine, but there is still a British “presence” in Kyiv as it is “important that we are supporting British citizens” in the country.

In a call on Monday evening, Mr Johnson and Mr Biden agreed western allies should stay “united in the face of Russian threats”, and will keep in close contact as the situation develops

Mr Johnson had pointed to warnings from the US that Russia could invade imminently, but also said there is still time for Russia to step back from the “edge of a precipice”.

The prime minister cut short a planned overnight stay in Cumbria on Monday, instead returning to No 10 to chair Tuesday’s Cobra meeting, after receiving a briefing on the latest intelligence from the UK’s spy chiefs.

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