US warns of ‘horrific’ conflict if Russia invades Ukraine as embattled PM Boris Johnson set to visit region

But senior Pentagon officials said they don’t believe Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a final decision on whether he will take Ukraine by force

Senior US defence officials have warned of the potential for an “horrific” conflict in Ukraine if Russia decides to invade the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a list of demands in recent days - including one that Ukraine should not be permitted to join Nato - and has amassed a force of more than 100,000 troops on the country’s border.

US President Joe Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy there is a “distinct possibility” Russia could make a military move against Ukraine in February.

The West has also hit back at Russian aggression by threatening to block the development of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and placing its own troops on alert.

However, on Sunday (30 January) both the UK and Nato said their troops would not be directly involved should Russia invade Ukraine.

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley said a Russia-Ukraine conflict would be ‘horrific’ (image: AFP/Getty Images)

In a bid to maintain diplomatic channels and “ramp up deterrence” to avoid a conflict, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced he will visit the region and hold a phone call with Mr Putin.

It comes as Mr Johnson prepares to receive a version of the Sue Gray report into Downing Street parties.

Labour said the Government was “playing catch up with other world leaders” on the Russia-Ukraine situation because it is “paralysed by a mess of its own making” in the form of the Partygate scandal.

UK shadow defence secretary John Healey called for the imposition of a “register of overseas entities” to “lift the veil on who owns property and assets in the UK”.

It was reported this week that American officials fear they will not be able to effectively sanction President Vladimir Putin in the event of an armed conflict in Ukraine because of Russian money being “entrenched” in London.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has suggested the Government is currently considering how to target Russian oligarchs with connections to the regime of Vladimir Putin.

Ukranian troops are on high alert along their country’s border with Russia (image: Getty Images)

At a glance: 5 key Ukraine crisis developments

  • On Friday (28 January), US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff - the highest-ranking US military officer - Mark Milley briefed reporters on the latest intelligence they have on the Russian armed forces amassed at Ukraine’s border, as well as the latest thinking about how a conflict could pan out.
  • Mr Austin said: "We don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine. He clearly now has that capability, and there are multiple options available to him." This included the “seizure of cities and significant territories" or "provocative political acts like the recognition of breakaway territories."
  • Meanwhile, General Milley said the scale of the Russian forces was larger than “anything we’ve seen in recent memory". He added that the diversity of Russian military camped at the border and the amount of firepower it has could cause "a significant amount of casualties".
  • "You can imagine what [a war] might look like in dense urban areas, along roads and so on and so forth. It would be horrific. It would be terrible," General Milley said. "And it’s not necessary, and we think a diplomatic outcome is the way to go here."
  • UK PM Boris Johnson will visit the region in the coming days. A Downing Street spokeswoman said he was “determined to accelerate diplomatic efforts and ramp up deterrence to avoid bloodshed in Europe”. They added he would “reiterate the need for Russia to step back and engage diplomatically” in his call with Mr Putin. It is believed Mr Johnson is considering a range of options to alleviate Russian aggression in the region, including fresh deployments and bolstering Nato’s defences. And, on Monday (31 January), the Foreign Office is expected to announce tougher sanctions that will target Russia’s strategic and financial interests.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said he did not believe Vladimir Putin had made a ‘final decision’ to use force to take Ukraine (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking to the Russian media on Friday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin is prepared to take retaliatory measures unless a guaranteed security agreement is reached with the West.

"If our attempt at reaching an agreement on mutually acceptable principles of the provision of European security fails, we will resort to retaliatory measures," Mr Lavrov said.

He also revealed that he had “agreed a date” with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to visit Moscow within the next two weeks.

More detailed picture of Russia forces emerges

It all comes as the Reuters News Agency revealed it has been told by anonymous senior US officials that the Russian troop build up includes supplies of blood for the wounded.

The officials said that it meant Russia "clearly" now has the capability to move on its neighbour.

In his Pentagon briefing, General Milley said the military capability Russia had at Ukraine’s border included more than “100,000 ground forces, air forces, naval forces, special forces, cyber, electronic warfare, command and control, logistics, engineers and other capabilities."

Additional reporting by PA

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