Russia and Ukraine: Britain unlikely to send troops if Putin invades - could there be a war in the region?

Russia and Ukraine have been at odds since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 following the ousting of the country’s pro-Moscow president

Ukrainian servicemen take part in the joint Rapid Trident military exercises with the United States and other Nato countries as tensions with Russia remain high over the Kremlin-backed insurgency in the country’s east (Photo: YURIY DYACHYSHYN/AFP via Getty Images)

It is “highly unlikely” Britain or its allies will send troops to defend Ukraine if it is invaded by neighbouring Russia, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has said.

US intelligence claims Russia has stationed about 70,000 troops near the border of Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year.

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Wallace and Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Yuriyovych Reznikov issued a joint statement on November 16 which said they were “concerned” by Russia’s military build-up.

“The United Kingdom stands shoulder to shoulder with the people of Ukraine and will continue its long-standing determination to support them,” the statement added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and other European leaders recently took part in talks with US PresidentJoe Biden on 7 December as Western allies considered how to respond to the threat of a Russian incursion into Ukraine.

The call came after Biden held an online meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin to warn that, in the event of an invasion, the US stands ready to impose sanctions that would exact “a very real cost” on the Russian economy, according to White House officials.

Following the bilateral, Biden then spoke to Johnson, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi, French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Angela Merkel as they seek to present a united front against the Kremlin.

It was the second time the five leaders – dubbed the Nato “Quint” – had spoken within the past 24 hours regarding the diplomatic crisis.

According to Downing Street, the leaders “underlined the importance of Russia ceasing their threatening behaviour towards Ukraine” during the call.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why would Russia want to invade Ukraine?

Comments made by a Kremlin-linked foreign policy analyst on 4 November suggested that Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine if the country is allowed to join Nato.

Russia is adamant the US should guarantee that Ukraine will not be admitted to the Nato military alliance.

Nato member states have pledged to side against Russia should the latter provoke a new conflict; though Ukraine is not yet a Nato member state, were it to become one it would have to side against Russia.

Russia and Ukraine have been at odds since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 following the ousting of the country’s pro-Moscow president.

More than 14,000 people died in fighting in eastern-Ukraine between government forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels.

Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, and warned that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and the plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.

Russia has denied that any plot is under way, but the Russians have become more explicit recently in their warnings to Ukraine and the United States.

(Photo: YURIY DYACHYSHYN/AFP via Getty Images)

Will there be a war?

There have been reports previously this year that the Kremlin was moving troops and equipment in the region, although US sources say the mobilisations this time are of a different scale.

Since mid-March analysts and the Ukrainian government have reported a build-up of Russian troops on its borders, including tanks and artillery units.

Putin has continually insisted that the buildup of troops is either part of planned exercises or in response to Nato forces operating nearby.

Putin has claimed that he told his own military not to conduct unplanned drills, because “there’s no need to aggravate the situation further”.

After being warned of the threat posed by Russia, EU leaders are ‘watching the situation very closely”, according to EU spokesperson Peter Stano.

In a statement, he said, “the information we gathered so far is rather worrying,” and the EU has been “looking into ways to enhance Ukraine’s resilience in case of further escalation”.

How could the UK respond?

In an interview with The Spectator, the UK’s Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Ukraine “is not a member of Nato so it is highly unlikely that anyone is going to send troops into Ukraine to challenge Russia”.

“We shouldn’t kid people we would. The Ukrainians are aware of that,” he added, in comments carried by The Times ahead of the interview’s publication.

Asked if that meant Ukraine was on its own, Wallace said: “We can all help with capacity building but to some extent Ukraine is not in Nato and that is why we are doing the best diplomatically to say to Putin don’t do this.”

Wallace’s comments came days after Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Russian leader Vladimir Putin there will be “significant consequences” for Russia if it invades Ukraine.

The Prime Minister spoke by telephone to Putin on 13 December to reassert the UK’s commitment to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and warn that any destabilising action by Moscow would be a “strategic mistake”.

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