Russia will face severe economic sanctions if it installs a puppet regime in Ukraine, a senior British minister said on Sunday after Britain accused the Kremlin of trying to install a pro-Russian leader there.
“It will have very serious consequences if Russia takes this step to try to invade but also install a puppet regime,” British Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News.
Britain made the accusation late on Saturday, also saying that Russian intelligence officials had been in contact with a number of former Ukrainian politicians as part of plans for an invasion.
The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the British accusation as “disinformation”, accusing NATO of “escalating tensions” over Ukraine.
The British allegations came after the top US and Russian diplomats on Friday failed to make a major breakthrough in talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, which was triggered when Russia began gathering troops near the country’s border.
Officials in Moscow have insisted they have no plans to invade, and both they and their US counterparts have agreed to continue talking. But the tension is still high.
In Washington, the US State Department announced that it was ordering eligible family members to leave the embassy in Kiev because of the threat of Russian military action.
US President Joe Biden has begun considering options to increase US military assets in the region, senior administration officials said, after meeting with senior national security assistants at his Camp David retreat on Saturday.
The New York Times said Biden was considering plans to send 1,000 to 5,000 troops to Eastern European countries, with the possibility of increasing the number if tensions flared further.
A senior official declined to confirm the figures on Sunday but said “we are developing plans and we are consulting with allies to decide which options are moving forward.”
With the world looking closely at Moscow’s next move, the British Foreign Office said it had information that the Russian government was considering former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevhen Murayev as a potential candidate to lead a pro-Russian leadership.
Murayev himself poured cold water on the notion that Russia wants to install him as Ukraine’s leader, in comments to British newspapers and in an interview with Reuters.
“This morning, I already read in all the news publications this conspiracy theory: absolutely unproven, absolutely unfounded,” Murayev told Reutersin in a video call, adding that he was considering legal action.
He denied that he had any contact with Russian intelligence officials and dismissed the idea that he could be in alliance with the Kremlin as “stupid”, as he was subjected to Russian sanctions in 2018.
Although he says he wants Ukraine to be independent of Russia and the West, Murayev, 45, has promoted certain views that are consistent with the Kremlin’s stories about Ukraine.
The British Foreign Office refused to provide evidence to substantiate its allegations. In a statement to Reuters, Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian adviser to the president’s office, said there were doubts among Ukrainians as to whether Murayev was a “too ridiculous figure” to be the Kremlin’s choice to lead Ukraine.
But he added that Russia had previously supported smaller people in leading positions in annexed Crimea and separatist Donbass.
Therefore, “this information should be taken as seriously as possible,” he said.
“Deeply worrying” The United States has described the alleged conspiracy over Ukraine as deeply worrying, and US officials said they were preparing for Russian action.
The State Department on Sunday also approved the voluntary resignation of U.S. government employees and said all Americans should consider leaving immediately.
“The State Department approved the voluntary resignation of US direct employees and ordered eligible family members to leave the Kiev embassy due to the continuing threat of Russian military action,” the statement said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has so far rejected calls for immediate economic sanctions against Russia, saying on Sunday that this would undermine the West’s ability to deter potential Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The United States has sent military aid to Ukraine but has refrained from sending US personnel.
When the deployment of US troops was discussed, a separate senior administration official said that US economic sanctions against Russia would have far-reaching consequences if the country invaded Ukraine.
The United States would use the Foreign Direct Product Rule to restrict exports to Russia of products containing microelectronics based on US equipment, software or technology.
Russia has made a number of demands on the United States, including a halt to NATO’s expansion to the east and a promise that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the Western military alliance.