UK ‘considering sending hundreds of troops to Eastern Europe’ amid Russia-Ukraine crisis

‘Very advanced discussions’ said to be taking place

Sam Hancock
Thursday 27 January 2022 00:46
<p>Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces</p>

Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces

British military officials are reportedly deciding whether to send hundreds of troops to Eastern Europe after Washington asked the UK and other Nato allies to support member countries in the face of a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The US is said to want reassurances from the UK that it would help reinforce Nato’s eastern flank, from the Baltic states to Romania and Bulgaria in the south, by bolstering military presence.

It comes after US president Joe Biden’s administration delivered its first written response to Russia’s security demands over the crisis on the border, including a rejection of Vladimir Putin’s call for Ukraine to never be allowed to join the alliance.

“Very advanced discussions” are now taking place among UK defence figures, according to The Daily Telegraph, with an announcement on new deployments expected as soon as Thursday.

While CNN reported that groups of 1,000 troops could be offered to each of several eastern flank countries by the UK, US and some other Nato allies, it is thought the British military would offer no more than a few hundred of its personnel.

Units from the Army, Royal Navy and RAF are said to be under consideration for dispatch, though no final decision has been made.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace travelled to Nato’s headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, and held talks with his various European counterparts, including Germany’s Christine Lambrecht.

He is said to have told reporters travelling with him that a “key focus” was to encourage Berlin to support tougher sanctions on Russia – including halting the opening of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which is set to bypass Ukraine – if it were to attack.

Mr Wallace said that the pipeline represented a “genuine piece of leverage” against the Kremlin, but the German government is reportedly split on the issue.

The UK, which has already sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and offered military training to its forces, leads a Nato battlegroup in Estonia with around 850 personnel – and it has 150 based in Poland on other missions.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson told MPs that in the event Russia invades Ukraine, “we would look to contribute to any new Nato deployments to protect our allies in Europe”.

Just two days earlier, though, Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister and former foreign secretary, told Sky News it was “extremely unlikely” the government would send additional troops to the region – suggesting the government’s position is hardening.

Downing Street has consistently tried to focus attention on the Ukraine crisis in recent days, in a bid to divert anger and speculation away from the prime minister amid the ongoing Partygate scandal.

During prime minister’s questions (PMQs) on Wednesday, Mr Johnson suggested Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer needed to “raise his game” and focus on the situation in Europe instead of lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street.

“He talks about the most serious issue before the public today, and before the world today, it is almost as if he is ignorant to the fact that we have a crisis on the borders of Ukraine,” the prime minister said of Sir Keir after being asked if he understood “the damage his behaviour is doing to the country”.

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