LONDON (AP) — The British government on Saturday accused Russia of seeking to replace Ukraine’s government with a pro-Moscow administration, and said former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniy Murayev was considered a potential candidate.
Murayev leads the small pro-Russian Nashi party, which currently has no seat in the Ukrainian parliament.
The UK Foreign Office named several other Ukrainian politicians it said had links to Russian intelligence.
It is unclear what means Britain thinks Russia could use to install a friendly government in Kyiv.
The British government made this claim based on an intelligence assessment, without providing any supporting evidence. It comes amid a war of words between Moscow and the West over Russia’s designs on Ukraine.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the information “sheds light on the extent of Russian activity aimed at overthrowing Ukraine and provides insight into Kremlin thinking.”
Truss urged Russia to “de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation and pursue diplomacy”, and reiterated Britain’s view that “any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with significant costs.”
Britain has sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine as part of efforts to bolster its defenses against a possible Russian attack.
Amid diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is expected to meet Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for talks in Moscow. No timetable has been given for the meeting, which would be the first bilateral defense talks between the UK and Russia since 2013.
The United States has mounted an aggressive campaign in recent months to unite its European allies against another Russian invasion of Ukraine. The White House called the UK government’s assessment “deeply concerning” and said it backed Ukraine’s duly elected government.
“This kind of conspiracy is deeply concerning,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said. “The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine.”
The assessment came as President Joe Biden spent Saturday at the Camp David presidential retreat outside Washington huddled with his national security team on the situation in Ukraine. A White House official said the talks included efforts to de-escalate the situation with diplomatic and deterrence measures closely coordinated with allies and partners, including security assistance to Ukraine.
In another development, the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania plan to send US-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a move the US fully endorsed on Saturday amid the crisis. escalation of tensions between Kiev and Russia.
Defense ministers from the three Baltic states said in a joint statement that they “remain united in our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of continued Russian aggression.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet that Washington salutes NATO countries and former Soviet republics “for their long-standing support for Ukraine”.
“I have expedited and authorized and we fully endorse the transfers of defensive equipment @NATO Allies Estonia Latvia Lithuania are providing to Ukraine to enhance its ability to defend against unprovoked and irresponsible Russian aggression,” said Blinken in another tweet.
Earlier this week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov described the West’s arms supply to Ukraine as extremely dangerous and said the shipments “do nothing to reduce tensions”.
Moscow has massed tens of thousands of troops near the Russian-Ukrainian border, raising fears of an invasion. The West has rejected Moscow’s main demands – NATO’s promises that Ukraine will never be added as a member, that no alliance weapons will be deployed near Russian borders and that it will withdraw its forces from Central and Eastern Europe.
A Friday meeting between Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov ended without a breakthrough. Amid the uncertain security situation, the US State Department considered a series of options to ensure the safety and security of the US Embassy in Kyiv and its employees by taking steps to reduce its diplomatic presence.
Defense ministers from the Baltic states said in their statement that Estonia would provide Javelin anti-tank weapons while Latvia and Lithuania would send Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and other related equipment to bolster Kyiv’s defensive military capabilities. It was not immediately clear when the weapons and equipment would be sent to Ukraine.
“Today, Ukraine is at the forefront of separating Europe from the military conflict with Russia. Let’s face it, the war in Ukraine is ongoing and it is important to support Ukraine in every way possible so that it can resist the aggressor,” Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet said.
Estonia is also seeking Germany’s approval to send Soviet-made howitzers, which once belonged to East Germany, to Ukraine. Estonia acquired the howitzers from non-NATO member Finland, which in turn had bought them from Germany’s surplus military supply in the 1990s.
The German government said on Friday it was considering Estonia’s request to hand over the howitzers to Ukraine, but gave no deadline for a decision. Berlin said it planned to coordinate the issue with Finland, which received a similar request for approval from Estonia.
Berlin regularly asks for a say when weapons sold by Germany are transferred to third countries. But some recent media reports have suggested that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s cabinet may block the transfer of arms from Estonia to Kyiv, underscoring divisions in the West’s response to the Ukraine crisis.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Saturday that Germany was not providing adequate support to Ukraine.
Kuleba said in a Twitter post that the arms transfer issue and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s remarks expressing skepticism about Russia’s cut off from the SWIFT global payment system “do not match the level of our relations and the current security situation”.
Also on Saturday, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador to object to the recently released video in which the head of the German navy said that Ukraine would not return to the Crimean peninsula, which Russia has annexed in 2014, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin deserved “respect”. .”
Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach’s comments prompted consternation and a swift rebuke in Berlin. On Saturday evening, the head of the German navy submitted his resignation, saying he wanted to avoid further damage resulting from his “rash statements” in India.
The US State Department is currently warning US citizens not to travel to Ukraine due to the coronavirus pandemic, but also advising them to reconsider travel due to possible Russian aggression.
Speculation that an announcement regarding the US diplomatic presence in Ukraine may be imminent has swirled ever since the embassy in Kyiv announced it would hold a virtual town hall meeting on the security situation with US citizens in Ukraine on Tuesday.
Discussions about this have been ongoing for some time, but Blinken reviewed contingency plans with the embassy security team when he visited Kyiv on Wednesday, officials said.
Officials stressed that no decision had yet been made and that an outright evacuation was not being considered. One possible scenario would be to order the families of US personnel to leave the country while allowing non-essential personnel to leave voluntarily at government expense, they said.
Jari Tanner reported from Helsinki. Jim Heintz in Moscow, AP diplomatic writer Matthew Lee in Washington, and AP writer Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.