There are “signs of a diplomatic opening” with Russia over the Ukraine border crisis, but intelligence on a possible invasion was “still not encouraging,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday.
Moscow said Tuesday it was pulling back some of its forces near the Ukrainian border to their bases, but Johnson warned that Russian forces were still “ready to go at virtually any time.”
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“We are seeing Russian openness to conversations. On the other hand, the intelligence that we’re seeing today is still not encouraging,” Johnson told Sky News.
“We’ve got Russian field hospitals being constructed near the border with Ukraine in Belarus, for what only can be construed as a preparation for an invasion.”
“You’ve got more battalion tactical groups actually being brought closer to the border with Ukraine...we’re seeing mixed signals,” he added.
Moscow released few details and there was no immediate outside confirmation of the withdrawal, which the Kremlin said had always been planned despite Western “hysteria” over a feared invasion of Ukraine.
It would be the first major step towards de-escalation in weeks of crisis with the West, but Johnson said Russia needed to do more to convince the world that it was not about to invade.
“We need to see a program of de-escalation, withdrawing battalion tactical groups away from potential theatres of conflict.”
“A sense that things are being scaled back and the threat is over,” he said.
But he did say that there were “clearly signs of a diplomatic opening.”
“There always has been an opportunity to talk,” he added.
Johnson on Tuesday chaired a meeting of the Civil Contingencies Committee that is convened to handle matters of national emergency or major disruption to discuss the UK’s response to the crisis.
The government on Friday urged all Britons to leave Ukraine country by commercial flights, but says it is maintaining a “core” diplomatic presence in Kyiv.
Foreign minister Liz Truss on Tuesday said “there is still time” for Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from any planned invasion.
“We could be on the brink of a war in Europe, which would have severe consequences not just for the people of Russia and Ukraine, but also for the broader security of Europe,” Truss told Sky News.
“There is still time for Vladimir Putin to step away from the brink. But there is only a limited amount of time for him to do that,” she added, warning an invasion could be “imminent.”
Truss held frosty talks last week with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow. He called it “a conversation between a mute person and a deaf person.”
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