LONDON – The British government on Saturday accused Russia of seeking to replace the Ukrainian government with a pro-Moscow administration, identifying a former Ukrainian lawmaker whom it claims the Kremlin considers a potential candidate.
Moscow reacted by accusing the UK government of misinformation, urging London to “stop spouting nonsense”.
The British government made the claim based on an intelligence assessment, amid a war of words between Moscow and the West over Russia’s designs on Ukraine.
“We have information that indicates the Russian government is seeking to install a pro-Russian leader in Keiv as it plans to invade and occupy Ukraine. Former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev is considered a potential candidate,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.
Yevhen Murayev is the head of the small pro-Russian Nashi party, which currently has no seat in the Ukrainian parliament.
The UK Foreign Office has named several other Ukrainian politicians, some of whom, according to Truss, “have contacts with Russian intelligence agents currently involved in planning an attack on Ukraine.”
The information “sheds light on the extent of Russian activity aimed at overthrowing Ukraine and provides insight into Kremlin thinking,” she added.
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.”
Moscow responded on Sunday by rejecting London’s claims outright. The Russian Foreign Ministry took to Twitter in English to accuse the UK government of misinformation, adding that NATO members “led by Anglo-Saxon nations” were escalating tensions over Ukraine.
“We urge the Foreign Office to stop spouting nonsense,” the ministry said. 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.
President Joe Biden spent Saturday at the Camp David presidential retreat with his national security team. An official said the talks included efforts to de-escalate the situation with closely coordinated diplomatic and deterrence measures with allies and partners, including security assistance to Ukraine.
The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are considering sending US-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine in solidarity with the country, a move welcomed by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday.
Earlier in the 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. —Euronews