US puts 8,500 troops on 'heightened alert' to deploy to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine

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Ukrainian Servicemen of the 30th Army Brigade are seen outside of Svitlodarsk, Ukraine - Anadolu
Ukrainian Servicemen of the 30th Army Brigade are seen outside of Svitlodarsk, Ukraine - Anadolu

The United States has placed 8,500 troops on "heightened alert" over the Ukraine standoff, warning that Russia has "no intention right now of de-escalating".

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said no final decisions have been made on deployments and that the order is about ensuring that the US is ready to respond if Nato decides to deploy its response force.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was on a call with US President Joe Biden and a number of key European leaders about the escalating situation.

Earlier on Monday, Mr Johnson said that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be "painful, violent and bloody business" for Vladimir Putin, as Britain withdrew its diplomats from Kyiv.

The Prime Minister said the UK was "leading on creating a package of economic sanctions" against Russia but added: "We also need to get a message that invading Ukraine, from a Russian perspective, 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," he said.

Nato allies have already sent aircraft and warships to Eastern Europe.

10:48 PM

A readout of the call from the White House

"President Biden held a secure video call with European leaders today. They reiterated their continued concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and expressed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

"The leaders underscored their shared desire for a diplomatic resolution to the current tensions and reviewed recent engagements with Russia in multiple formats. The leaders also discussed their joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including preparations to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia for such actions as well as to reinforce security on NATO’s eastern flank.

"They committed to continued close consultation with transatlantic Allies and partners, including working with and through the EU, NATO, and the OSCE."

10:27 PM

Moscow faces 'heavy consequences' from West if it attacks Ukraine

Germany issued the threat after the call with Mr Biden and other European leaders. So far only dribs and drabs have been released of what was discussed. The US President said he had a "very good" call with European allies and there was "total unanimity".

A statement read: “The leaders agreed that, should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen, allies must enact swift retributive responses including an unprecedented package of sanctions.”

10:15 PM

Call between leaders lasted over an hour

President Joe Biden's call with eight European leaders on the deepening crisis in Ukraine started at 3:05pm EST and ended at 4:25pm EST (9.25pm GMT), according to the White House.

09:02 PM

What the White House Press Secretary said

Jen Psaki was speaking to reporters earlier from the White House.

08:51 PM

Germans insist they are being tough

Germany's ambassador to Washington attempts to play down concerns that Berlin is going soft on their response to Russian aggression.

08:39 PM

Why isn't Ukraine on the call?

Asked why Ukraine isn't included in US President Joe Biden's call this afternoon with eight other European leaders, Jen Psaki points to other conversations that have happened with Ukrainian officials and says Ukraine "will be a part of many conversations moving forward."

07:58 PM

Phone call to start soon

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to join a call with US President Joe Biden and key European leaders in the next few minutes.

The pair will speak with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Polish President Andrzej Duda.

Boris Johnson on the phone - Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson on the phone - Andrew Parsons / No10 Downing Street

07:55 PM

Russian and Ukrainian officials to meet in Paris

Officials from Russia and Ukraine are set to meet in Paris on Wednesday for talks with their counterparts from France and Germany in a bid to defuse tensions, an aide to French President Emmanuel Macron said.

The meeting - a revival of four-way talks between the nations known as the Normandy Format - is part of efforts to avert war, with France seeing "a path to de-escalation" that would include steps from Ukraine and Russia, the aide told reporters on condition of anonymity.

07:41 PM

8,500 US-based troops on high alert

The Pentagon announces that 8,500 American soldiers are on alert to prepare for their deployment to Europe if necessary.

John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson said: "The United States has taken steps to heighten the readiness of its forces at home and abroad so they are prepared to respond to a range of contingencies, including support to the NATO Response Force if it is activated."

“No decisions have been made to deploy any forces from the US at this time," he adds.

"Approximately 8,500 US troops have been put on "higher alert, and higher alert only," Mr Kirby says.

07:34 PM

“Prepare to deploy orders” issued to US troops

This morning, it was reported that the Biden administration was in the final stages of identifying specific military units to send. The next steps would be 'prepare to deploy orders' and then 'deployment orders.'

According to the Wall Street Journal, the “prepare to deploy orders” have been issued to troops stationed at several U.S.-based installations.

John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary is speaking now.

07:19 PM

How Russia could invade Ukraine

Where are the troops now and what could happen next?

07:04 PM

White House Press Secretary speaks

The United States is refining its military plans for all scenarios in the Ukraine crisis, the White House has, as Washington worked to bolster deployments on NATO's eastern flank.

"We've never ruled out providing additional assistance to eastern flank countries in advance of any invasion," said Jen Psaki, White House spokeswoman.

"We always said we would support them and an invasion would not be a prerequisite for that."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki - AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
White House press secretary Jen Psaki - AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Asked whether Mr Biden thought an invasion of Ukraine was imminent, Ms Psaki said: "We cannot get into the mind of president Putin. We are seeing the preparations that they are making at the border."

"It's important to remember who the aggressor is, it's not the US or eastern flank countries, it's Russia - they have the power to de-escalate," Ms Psaki said.

06:31 PM

US politicians ask for updates

Amid reports that the US is preparing to mobilise thousands of troops, US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked the Biden administration for a briefing on the Ukraine-Russia situation for all members of the House of Representatives, according to an aide.

The uncertainty is affecting stock markets, with the Dow Jones down 1,000 points today.

The FTSE 100 has closed lower as the escalating drumbeat of conflict risk in Ukraine is concerning European investors.

London's main index dropped 2.6pc to 7,297, as the UK followed the US in announcing that it was removing non-essential embassy staff from Kyiv.

06:02 PM

'You have to avoid a nervous breakdown'

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell sought Monday to calm Western fears over the Ukraine crisis after talks with US top diplomat Antony Blinken.

"We know very well what the degree of threats are and the way in which we must react, and no doubt we must avoid alarmist reactions," Mr Borrell said.

"You have to stay calm doing what you have to do, and avoid a nervous breakdown."

European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell - JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images
European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell - JOHN THYS/AFP via Getty Images

05:46 PM

Flight schedules changed

Germany's Lufthansa has rescheduled at least two flights to Ukraine this week, in one of the first changes to air traffic since the latest step-up in tensions between Russia and the West.

A Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to Kyiv on Sunday afternoon was moved to Monday morning, with Lufthansa service centre staff saying this was because crew could no longer stay in Kyiv overnight due to the current "problems", a Reuters reporter who witnessed the announcement said.

Several countries have issued warnings over the risk of flying near Ukraine's eastern border region, some 450-550 miles south-east of Kyiv, since Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

Lufthansa plane - REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
Lufthansa plane - REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

The US Federal Aviation Administration recently renewed a ban on US airlines flying over parts of eastern Ukraine.

Canada warned last week of "heightened military activity" and the "threat posed by miscalculation and miscommunication".

"We have adjusted our flight schedule to Ukraine for operational reasons only," a Lufthansa spokesperson said on Monday, while another confirmed there would be no layovers in Kyiv for the time being.

05:06 PM

Telegraph's Ukraine crisis webinar tomorrow

Join our Ukraine crisis webinar with The Telegraph's senior foreign correspondent, Roland Oliphant and Moscow correspondent, Nataliya Vasilyeva, at midday on Tuesday Jan 25.

Sign-up, here.

05:00 PM

Key leaders to hold phone call tonight

US President Joe Biden has updated his daily schedule to include a phone call with key European leaders this evening at 8pm GMT.

Mr Biden is due to head to the Situation Room and speak with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Polish President Andrzej Duda, and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Joe Biden receiving updates at Camp David over the weekend - The White House via AP
Joe Biden receiving updates at Camp David over the weekend - The White House via AP

He has allowed two hours before his next engagement. As reported earlier, he is considering sending 5,000 American troops to Eastern Europe, but the number could be increased tenfold at short notice if the situation deteriorates.

04:37 PM

Nato could deploy more combat units

Nato could deploy additional combat units in eastern Europe in response to Russia's military build-up on Ukraine's border, Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.

"We are considering to further enhance our presence in the eastern part of the alliance, this could include the deployment of additional Nato battlegroups," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

So far, Nato has based about 4,000 troops in multinational battalions in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, backed by tanks, air defences and intelligence and surveillance units.

04:33 PM

Canadian diplomats staying in Ukraine

Canadian diplomats and their families are staying in Ukraine for the time being but Ottawa is constantly reviewing their safety, which is of paramount importance, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated on Monday.

Trudeau side-stepped questions about whether he would order an evacuation and also did not answer when pressed on the possibility of Canada sending troops to Ukraine as a way of countering Russia's military build-up along the border.

04:20 PM

Ukraine tensions: Nato sends 'ships and fighter jets' to Eastern Europe

Nato has announced it is sending additional ships and fighter jets to existing bases in Eastern Europe, as well as putting extra troops on standby, as tensions escalate in Ukraine.

Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary General of Nato, said the move is designed to enhance deterrence and defence in Eastern Europe, adding that Nato "will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment".

"Nato will continue to take all necessary measures to protect and defend all Allies, including by reinforcing the eastern part of the Alliance," Mr Stoltenberg said in a statement.

Read the full piece by Marcus Parekh and David Millward here.

04:18 PM

Vitali Klitschko: Germany has 'betrayed' Ukraine as Russian threat mounts

Vitali Klitschko, the former world heavyweight boxing champion turned mayor of Kyiv, has accused Germany of “betraying” Ukraine.

Vitali Klitschko seen dressed in army combat uniform in a video clip posted on his Instagram feed in October 2021 - Instagram
Vitali Klitschko seen dressed in army combat uniform in a video clip posted on his Instagram feed in October 2021 - Instagram

In a guest editorial for Germany’s highest-selling newspaper on Monday, Mr Klitschko took aim at Berlin for its ban on arms exports to Ukraine and its continued support for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia.

Read the full piece by Justin Huggler in Berlin here.

04:12 PM

Biden considering sending 5,000 troops to Eastern Europe

US President Joe Biden is considering sending 5,000 American troops to Eastern Europe amid mounting fears of an imminent incursion by Russia into Ukraine, writes Jamie Johnson, in Washington.

In what would be a significant change of tactics, the 79-year-old is also looking at moving warships and aircraft to NATO countries which neighbour Ukraine.

This morning, CNN has reported that the administration is in the final stages of identifying specific military units to send. The next steps would be 'prep orders' and then 'deployment orders.'

The New York Times reported that while the initial number may only total 5,000 troops, this could be increased tenfold at short notice if the situation deteriorates.

Former US President Donald Trump said in a statement: "What’s happening with Russia and Ukraine would never have happened under the Trump Administration. Not even a possibility."

03:29 PM

Russian drills 'not welcome' off Irish coast, says Dublin

Russia will hold live-fire naval exercises off the coast of Ireland, a move condemned as "not welcome" by Dublin amid mounting military tensions, reports Brussels Correspondent Joe Barnes.

Moscow informed the Irish government that it plans to dispatch battleships next month for the drills around 150 miles off the country’s south-west coast, inside its controlled airspace and exclusive economic zone.

"I have made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland that it’s not welcome,” Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, said on Monday.

"This is not a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what is happening with and in Ukraine at the moment."

Russia, under UN conventions, is allowed to conduct military exercises in international waters within economic zones of other countries as long as they do not stray into territorial waters.

In order to comply with legal obligations, Moscow informed Ireland’s aviation authorities of the planned activities in advance of the operation.

The Irish Aviation Authority said there would be no impact to the safety of civil aircraft operations.

The Russian drills will form part of a wider series of naval exercises involving some 140 ships and 10,000 troops in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean, North Sea and Sea of Okhotsk.

03:27 PM

Lizz Truss 'demented' for comparing Chinese aggression to Ukraine situation

Liz Truss is “demented” for comparing Chinese aggression in the Indo Pacific region to the possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the former prime minister of Australia has said, writes Europe Editor James Crisp.

The Foreign Secretary suggested that Moscow and Beijing were working together as they looked to dominate their spheres of influence in an interview in the Sydney Morning Herald.

Paul Keating, a former Labor leader who left office in 1996, accused Britain and its “disreputable government” of suffering from “delusions of grandeur and relevance deprivation”.

Asked if China could copy Russia’s tactics against Ukraine, Ms Truss said, ‘‘I don’t think we can rule that out.’’

“Russia is working more closely with China than it ever has. Aggressors are working in concert and I think it’s incumbent on countries like ours to work together,” she said.

Ms Truss and Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, were in Australia last week for talks on countering Chinese influence in the region.

Mr Keating, 78, said Ms Truss’s statement was “nothing short of demented”.

“Not simply irrational, demented,” he added.

He said that the UK government was “disreputable” and “collapsing” in an attack which puts him at odds with cross-party agreement in Australia to condemn Chinese aggression.

Mr Keating branded the visit a “desperate” effort to push the UK as a strategic partner to contain China.

03:21 PM

Truss: Britain will call out Russian attempts to subvert democracy

Britain will call out Russian attempts to subvert democracy, foreign minister Liz Truss said on Monday after her department accused the Kremlin of seeking to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine.

"The reason we put that out into the public domain is we are going to call out every instance of Russia trying to influence democracy, trying to subvert Ukraine, false flag operations and sabotage," Truss told reporters in Brussels.

02:54 PM

Watch: Johnson warns Putin invasion would be 'bloody' for Russia

02:24 PM

Ukraine takes aim at UK and US for leaving

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy thanked European Council President Charles Michel and EU national leaders on Monday for their solidarity and support during his country's standoff with Russia, which has massed troops along their shared border.

"I'm grateful to you, Mr. President of the European Council, and to the leaders of the EU countries, whose diplomats remain in our state and support us, doing their job," Zelenskiy told Michel in a telephone conversation.

Zelenskiy also said Ukraine would not respond to provocations from the Russian side.

02:24 PM

British couple's nervy wait as they wait for baby's passport

A British couple living in Ukraine while their surrogate-born baby is issued a passport have described their "nerve-racking" wait amid mounting tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

The threat of a Russian invasion has put Nato forces on standby and led the Foreign Office to begin withdrawing some staff and dependents from the embassy in Kyiv - where some British expats said they have bags packed ready to "go west".

Ben Garratt and his wife, Alice, live in Queen's Park in London but moved to the Ukrainian capital at the end of the December to meet their baby and oversee official paperwork.

"Ukraine has very different surrogacy laws to the UK which means that it's much easier to work with an IVF clinic and a surrogacy agency here to have a baby that way... so Ukraine is an international hub of people coming for surrogacy services," Mr Garratt, 40, told the PA news agency.

"We've always known that it would be a load of paperwork once he was born, for us to bring him home - but obviously, what was going to be a period of potential boredom, waiting in an apartment in Kyiv for two or three months, is now more nerve-racking.

"Unless we can get a passport for Raphael in the conventional way, or if that becomes impossible, the British Embassy get to the point they can give Raphael an emergency passport, we can't leave - so it is nerve-racking."

02:05 PM

Russian navy ships set out into Baltic Sea

Twenty Russian navy vessels set out into the Baltic Sea on Monday for drills, the RIA news agency reported, amid heightened tensions between Moscow and the West over Ukraine and reports that the United States might send extra troops to the region.

The ships will perform exercises focused on naval and anti-aircraft defence, RIA quoted the Baltic Navy as saying.

Russia has said it would "respond appropriately" if Washington boosts troop numbers in Eastern Europe, after the New York Times reported that the White House was considering such a move.

02:04 PM

EU: UK and US are 'dramatising' Ukraine situation

The European Union’s top foreign diplomat has accused the UK and US of "dramatising" the situation in Ukraine by withdrawing diplomats from their embassies in Kyiv.

Josep Borrell insisted the bloc would not follow suit by pulling out its own representatives in the Ukrainian capital before holding talks with US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken.

"We are not going to do the same thing, because we do not know any specific reasons," Mr Borrell told reporters, arriving at a gathering of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.

He added: "I do not think we have to dramatise."

01:53 PM

Russian action will not be 'cost-free', warns Johnson

Boris Johnson insisted that any Russian action against Ukraine would not be "cost-free".

The Prime Minister's comments came after US President Joe Biden suggested that a "minor incursion" may result in a more measured response by the United States and allies.

Mr Johnson said: "The UK is in the lead in creating that package of economic sanctions... helping to stiffen the resistance of our Ukrainian friends with defensive weaponry that we are supplying, making it clear that we stand fully four-square with the people of Ukraine and that we support the sovereign integrity of Ukraine, and we do.

"But we also need to get over to Russia that any invasion, any incursion - of any kind, of any dimension - into Ukraine is not going to be a cost-free business... there will be casualties."

01:52 PM

How Russia could invade Ukraine

01:51 PM

Johnson: 'The intelligence is pretty gloomy'

Mr Johnson said he had visited Ukraine and knew the people of the country, adding: "My judgment is that they will fight."

Asked if he believed an invasion was imminent, the Prime Minister, on a visit to Milton Keynes, said: "I've got to tell you that I think the intelligence is pretty gloomy at this point.

"There is certainly a very, very large array of Russian forces and we have to take the necessary steps.

"I don't think it's by any means inevitable now, I think that sense can still prevail."

The Foreign Office confirmed the move after the United States ordered the families of all American personnel at the US Embassy to leave the country in response the the risk of an invasion.

Russian forces have massed at the border with Ukraine and intense diplomatic activity has failed to ease tensions.

The Foreign Office said: "Some embassy staff and dependants are being withdrawn from Kyiv in response to the growing threat from Russia.

"The British Embassy remains open and will continue to carry out essential work."

Sources at the Foreign Office told the BBC the move was not the result of any specific intelligence targeting British diplomats, but a response to the growing risk of a Russian incursion and the potential risk to UK officials in the Ukraine.

01:50 PM

British combat troops would not be used to defend Ukraine

Downing Street said British combat troops would not be used to defend Ukraine.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said there were "further signs of Russian aggression" on the country's border and that "the West is - we are - ready to act if needed".

The spokesman said around 30 British diplomats - including the ambassador - remained in Ukraine.

But he said there were "no plans to send UK combat troops" to the region but sanctions were on the table if Russia proceeded.

The spokesman said: "We don't speculate on things like sanctions, but certainly there will be significant economic measures put in place."

The UK believes there is a significant risk that the Russian president Vladimir Putin will launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Tensions in Ukraine have been increasing for months after the Kremlin massed 100,000 troops near Ukraine's borders, a dramatic build-up the West says is preparation for a war to prevent Ukraine from ever joining the Nato security alliance.

01:50 PM

Ukraine: US and UK withdrawal 'premature' and 'excessive'

Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko described both the UK's and US' withdrawal of staff from the country as "premature" and "excessive".

He said: "We have taken note of the US Department of State’s decision RE departure of family members of the US embassy in Kyiv staff.

"While we respect right of foreign nations to ensure safety and security of their diplomatic missions, we believe such a step to be a premature one & an instance of excessive caution."

When it was later confirmed Britain was following the US' lead, Mr Nikolenko said his comments on America also applied to the UK.

01:49 PM

Raab: 'The world needs to keep its eye on this'

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, has accused the president of plotting to install a pro-Moscow leader as head of the Ukrainian government.

The Foreign Office took the unusual step of naming the former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as a potential Kremlin candidate to take over in Kyiv - a claim dismissed as provocative "nonsense" by Moscow.

Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, warned on Sunday that there was a "very significant risk" of a Russian invasion of its neighbour.

"The world needs to keep its eye on this and be very clear with President Putin that it would not do this cost-free, that there would be a price," he told the BBC. "A price in terms of the strenuous defence that we would expect the Ukrainians to put up, but also the economic cost through sanctions, which are of course more effective if the international community speaks as one or at least with a broad consensus."

01:48 PM

Pictured: The British embassy in Ukraine

The British embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, pictured on Monday - the day the Foreign Office announced staff were being told to leave - Gleb Garanich/Reuters
The British embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine, pictured on Monday - the day the Foreign Office announced staff were being told to leave - Gleb Garanich/Reuters

01:48 PM

EU has no plans to withdraw diplomats from Kyiv

The European Union does not plan to withdraw diplomats' families from Ukraine at the moment, Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said on Monday after Washington announced such a move, pointing out a military attack by Russia could come at any time.

The US State Department announced on Sunday that it was ordering diplomats' family members to leave Ukraine, in one of the clearest signs yet that American officials are bracing for an aggressive Russian move in the region.

"We are not going to do the same thing because we don't know any specific reasons. But (US) Secretary (of State Antony) Blinken will inform us," Mr Borrell told reporters.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied planning to invade, but the Russian military already took a chunk of Ukrainian territory when it seized Crimea and backed separatist forces who took control of large parts of eastern Ukraine eight years ago.

"Negotiations are going on," Mr Borrell said, adding he saw no reason to leave Ukraine "unless Secretary Blinken gives us an information that justifies a move."

The EU's foreign ministers are expected to issue a warning to Russia over its troop build-up at Ukraine's border.

01:47 PM

Von der Leyen: 'The EU stands by Ukraine'

In a statement on Monday, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: "The EU stands by Ukraine. We are firm in our resolve.

"I am announcing a new financial assistance package, made of emergency loans and grants, to support Ukraine in the medium and long-term.

"It will help Ukraine now, to address financing needs due to the conflict and support the country’s resilience-building efforts.

"It consists of:

  1. New macro-financial assistance package of €1.2billion

  2. Doubling of bilateral assistance this year, with another €120million

"On top of this, we will soon start work on a second, longer-term MFA programme to support the country’s modernisation efforts and continue to invest in the country’s future thanks to our Investment Plan for Ukraine.

"This plan aims to leverage over €6billion in investments."

01:47 PM

Pictures from the front line

An Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman poses with his weapons in a trench on the frontline with the Russia-backed separatists near Zolote village, in the eastern Lugansk region, on January 21 - Anatolii Stepanov/AFP
An Ukrainian Military Forces serviceman poses with his weapons in a trench on the frontline with the Russia-backed separatists near Zolote village, in the eastern Lugansk region, on January 21 - Anatolii Stepanov/AFP
Ukraine Russia Conflict - Allied Resolve 2022 Original description: Tactical training with the engineers of the Guard of the Red-Snow of Russia's Armed Forces in Voronezh region, east of Ukraine border, in frozen and sub-freezing temperatures on Friday Jan 21 - Avalon
Ukraine Russia Conflict - Allied Resolve 2022 Original description: Tactical training with the engineers of the Guard of the Red-Snow of Russia's Armed Forces in Voronezh region, east of Ukraine border, in frozen and sub-freezing temperatures on Friday Jan 21 - Avalon
An Ukrainian serviceman of the 30th Army Brigade on the job with dogs just outside of Svitlodarsk - Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu
An Ukrainian serviceman of the 30th Army Brigade on the job with dogs just outside of Svitlodarsk - Wolfgang Schwan/Anadolu

01:45 PM

So what happens now?

Mounting tensions between Ukraine and Russia has led the Foreign Office to begin withdrawing some staff and dependents from the embassy in Kyiv.

Here we look at the background to the situation and what might happen next:

What is the cause of the tension between Russia and Ukraine?

Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 but maintained close economic and cultural links with Russia.

Alarmed by Ukraine's move towards closer ties with the European Union and a popular uprising which forced out Moscow-leaning president Viktor Yanukovych, Russia annexed the strategically important Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Putin wants Ukraine to remain inside Russia's sphere of influence, its "near abroad", and to avoid becoming a Western-style democracy with ties to the European Union and Nato.

What has caused the latest crisis?

Russia has denied any intention to invade Ukraine, but has massed an estimated 100,000 troops along the country's border.

Troops are also taking part in exercises in Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north.

The UK has also accused Russia of increased cyber activity and widespread disinformation, as well of plotting to install a puppet government in Kyiv, something dismissed as "nonsense" by Moscow.

What has been the response?

Western nations have responded by threatening sanctions against Russia and supplying arms to the Ukrainian forces.

The UK has around 100 troops providing training, although this number fluctuates, as part of Operation Orbital.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace confirmed the UK would supply "light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems" to the Ukrainian forces, while the US has also sent what it described as "lethal aid" including ammunition.

The Nato alliance is increasing the number of warships and fighter jets in eastern Europe.

Could war be prevented?

US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva on January 21 and although there was no breakthrough the diplomatic path does not yet appear to have been closed off.

But one of Putin's key demands is for a guarantee that Ukraine will never be admitted to Nato, something that the allies will not promise, saying that such matters are decisions for Kyiv and the Nato members.

US President Joe Biden has warned that any invasion would result in Russia paying a "heavy price", with severe economic sanctions although he also hinted at divisions in the West about what the response might be to a "minor incursion".

What is the Foreign Office doing in Kyiv?

An update to travel advice revealed that some British staff and dependents are being withdrawn from the embassy in Ukraine's capital because of the "growing threat from Russia".

The US State Department was taking similar action, ordering the departure of family members from its embassy due to the continued threat of military action.

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