UK orders Britons out of Ukraine as White House says Putin poised for invasion

UK nationals ‘should leave now while commercial means still available’ as US warns of action within 10 days

Jane Dalton,David Harding
Friday 11 February 2022 20:57
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Boris Johnson: Ukraine is biggest security crisis Europe has faced for decades
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Britons in Ukraine were last night urged to leave immediately as the United States warned that a Russian invasion could begin “at any time”.

The Foreign Office said it was advising against all travel to the country and that British nationals there “should leave now while commercial means are still available.”

It came hours after British defence secretary Ben Wallace flew to Russia for talks, meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, who repeated Russia’s assurances that it was not planning to invade.

Rhetoric from Moscow was hardening, US sources said, adding that six Russian warships had reached the Black Sea, and more Russian military equipment was arriving in Belarus, north of Ukraine.

Any invasion would be likely to start with an air assault, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, warning Americans there to leave in the next 24-48 hours because a Russian air assault would make departures difficult.

Moscow said it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless its demands are met. It has already massed more than 100,000 troops on the Ukrainian border, adding more on Thursday and Friday.

“We’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” said US secretary of state Antony Blinken. The Beijing Games end a week on Sunday.

“Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” he added.

Follow live: Brits told to leave country immediately

The UK government advice came hours after the US, Japan and the Netherlands told their citizens to leave Ukraine immediately.

The Netherlands was preparing to move its diplomatic mission from Kiev to Lviv in the west of the country, and Israel announced the evacuation of the families of diplomats.

Boris Johnson told allies that he feared for the security of Europe, as he held a virtual meeting with the leaders of the US, Italy, Poland, Romania, France, Germany, the European Council, the European Commission and Nato.

“He impressed the need for Nato allies to make absolutely clear that there will be a heavy package of economic sanctions ready to go, should Russia make the devastating and destructive decision to invade Ukraine,” the prime minister’s office said.

Mr Biden said earlier that “things could go crazy quickly” and insisted that US troops would not be involved in any rescue missions.

Moscow, meanwhile, said answers sent this week by the EU and Nato to its security demands showed “disrespect”. Vladimir Putin has been demanding guarantees that Ukraine will never join Nato and objects to the bloc’s “eastward expansion”.

US officials believe the crisis could be reaching a critical point, with rhetoric from Moscow hardening, and more Russian military equipment arriving in Belarus, a US source said.

Mr Wallace said the anti-tank missiles that Britain sent to Ukraine were defensive tactical weapons that do not pose a threat to any neighbour unless it invaded, and described the talks as “constructive and frank”.

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