The UK warned on Saturday that Russia was plotting to install a pro-Moscow leader in Ukraine at a time of mounting western alarm over an imminent Russian invasion of the country.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it had evidence that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin was seeking to install a puppet regime as it mulls whether to invade — and named Yevhen Murayev, a former Ukrainian MP, as a potential leader favoured by Moscow.
Liz Truss, UK foreign secretary, said that the revelation “shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine and is an insight into Kremlin thinking”.
She added: “Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy. As the UK and our partners have said repeatedly, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs.”
The UK also highlighted several former Ukrainian politicians who it said had continued links with Russian intelligence services, including Serhiy Arbuzov, former first deputy prime minister of Ukraine; Andriy Kluyev, chief of staff to former President Viktor Yanukovich; Vladimir Sivkovich, ex-deputy header of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council; and Mykola Azarov, former prime minister of Ukraine.
Russia has massed 106,000 troops on the border with its western neighbour and Nato officials fear a Russian invasion is impending.
In response to London’s warning, the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement cited by state newswire RIA Novosti: “The disinformation spread by the UK Foreign Office is yet more evidence that it is Nato countries, foremost the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine.”
“We call on the Foreign Office to end its provocative activity, stop spreading nonsense and concentrate on studying the history of the Tatar-Mongol yoke,” the ministry added in an apparent dig at UK defence secretary Ben Wallace’s recent speech on Russia and Ukraine’s shared history.
Washington expressed its concern at the allegations. Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the White House’s National Security Council, said: “This kind of plotting is deeply concerning. The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine.”
The UK’s late-night statement came at the end of a day when Germany’s naval chief resigned after sparking a diplomatic row by saying that Vladimir Putin should be given the “respect he probably deserves” and claiming that Crimea would never be returned to Ukraine.