Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said it is “highly likely” Valdimir Putin will order an attack on Ukraine despite talks to avert war.
He compared diplomatic efforts to prevent a Russian invasion of the country to the UK’s appeasement of Nazi Germany in 1938, saying there is a “whiff of Munich in the air”.
But what did he mean, and when could Russia invade Ukraine?
When could Russia invade Ukraine?
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Ben Wallace said Moscow could “launch an offensive at any time”.
Wallace’s comments come following US president Joe Biden’s call with Russian president Vladimir Putin on 12 February, during which Biden warned an attack would cause “widespread human suffering”.
He added that an attack would “diminish Russia’s standing” as fears of an attack pushed Western nations, including the UK, to order citizens to evacuate Ukraine.
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky sought to downplay the threat, saying: “The best friend of our enemies is panic in our country. And all this information is just provoking panic and can’t help us.”
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the White House of stoking “hysteria”.
Russia currently has 130,000 troops gathered along the Ukraine border, and Armed Forces minister James Heappey has warned the country is in a position to be able to attack “very, very quickly”.
US intelligence sources have suggested the country could attack on Wednesday 16 February, however it is unclear how definitive this intelligence is.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said an attack before the end of the Winter Olympics on February 20 is a “credible prospect”.
UK nationals in Ukraine are being urged by the Foreign Office to “leave now while commercial means are still available”.
What does a ‘whiff of Munich’ mean?
Speaking to The Sunday Times, the Defence Secretary said: “It may be that he (Putin) just switches off his tanks and we all go home but there is a whiff of Munich in the air from some in the West.”
A source close to Mr Wallace explained that his concerns that if Mr Putin strikes “come what may, then all the diplomacy would have been a straw man”.
Wallace was apparently comparing the diplomatic efforts to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine to the UK’s policy towards Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
This agreement allowed German annexation of the Sudetendland in 1938, but it failed to prevent the Second World War.
Though the Kremlin insists it is not planning an invasion, US intelligence suggests Russia could fabricate a “false flag” pretext to attack.
What will happen if Russia invades Ukraine?
Western leaders have threatened Moscow with a damaging package of sanctions in the event of a further incursion into Ukrainian soil.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said that “Russia will face massive consequences” for invading Ukraine, including “severe sanctions”.
Ukraine is not a Nato member and allies in the defence alliance have said they would not join fighting in Ukraine, but have bolstered forces in neighbouring nations and are threatening widespread sanctions.
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