British nationals in Ukraine have been warned not to expect a military evacuation and urged to leave “immediately by any means possible” amid fears of a Russian invasion.
The UK and the US have been joined by Japan, Latvia, Norway, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand in issuing warnings to citizens who are still in the country.0:20Play Video – ‘British nationals should leave now”British nationals should leave now’
Junior defence minister James Heappey told Sky News: “British nationals should leave Ukraineimmediately by any means possible and they should not expect, as they saw in the summer with Afghanistan, that there would be any possibility of a military evacuation.”
He told the BBC that British troops in Ukraine to train local forces would be leaving this weekend. “All of them will be withdrawn. There will be no British troops in Ukraine if there is to be a conflict there,” he said.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Americans should leave within 48 hours and also should not expect military evacuation if they fail to heed this advice.1:05Play Video – US: Ukraine invasion ‘any day now’US: Ukraine invasion ‘any day now’
As new forces continue to arrive at the Ukrainian border, he added: “If a Russian attack on Ukraine proceeds, it is likely to begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians without regard to their nationality.”
The US has suspended consular services in Kyiv and ordered the departure of most staff. There will be limited embassy presence in Lviv.
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A Russian official would only say that staff numbers had been “optimised” at its own embassy.
Many analysts had believed an invasion was unlikely until after the Winter Olympics concludes in China on 20 February – but according to the AP news agency, Washington has picked up intelligence that suggests Moscow is looking at Wednesday as a target date.
Russia wants guarantees from the West, including a promise of no missile deployments near its borders, no NATO membership for Ukraine, and a scaling back of the alliance’s military infrastructure.
Although the West has described the Kremlin’s main demands as “non-starters”, it is prepared to discuss arms control and other confidence-building steps.
The White House has confirmed that Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will discuss the crisis by phone later today, and it comes as Washington prepares to send an additional 3,000 troops to Poland in the coming days.
‘British nationals in Ukraine should leave now’
On Friday evening, the Foreign Office issued updated travel guidance to advise UK citizens “against all travel to Ukraine”.
“British nationals in Ukraine should leave now while commercial means are still available,” the updated advice added.
“Since January 2022, the build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders has increased the threat of military action.
“Due to this increased threat, the FCDO has taken the decision to further withdraw embassy staff from Kyiv.
“The embassy remains open but will be unable to provide in-person consular assistance. British nationals should leave while commercial options remain.”1:11Play Video – PM meets British troops in PolandPM meets British troops in Poland
PM tells allies he ‘fears for security of Europe’
In a virtual meeting on Friday evening, the prime minister spoke with the leaders of the US, Italy, Poland, Romania, France, Germany, the EU, and NATO.
“The prime minister told the group that he feared for the security of Europe in the current circumstances,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
“He impressed the need for NATO allies to make it absolutely clear that there will be a heavy package of economic sanctions ready to go, should Russia make the devastating and destructive decision to invade Ukraine.
“The prime minister added that President [Vladimir] Putin had to understand that there would be severe penalties that would be extremely damaging to Russia’s economy, and that allies needed to continue with efforts to reinforce and support the Eastern frontiers of NATO.
“He urged the leaders to work together to deliver economic and defensive support to Ukraine.”
But the spokesperson added that world leaders had agreed, if Mr Putin “de-escalated”, there would be “another way forward” as they “pledged to redouble diplomatic efforts in the coming days”.
Russia is currently holding massive war games in Belarus, which borders Russia, Ukraine and Poland.2:16Play Video – UK has ‘above 0% trust in Russia’UK has ‘above 0% trust in Russia’
UK-Russia relations ‘above zero’
Earlier in the day, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace had continued those diplomatic efforts as he held talks with his Russian counterpart in Moscow.
Mr Wallace described the discussions as “constructive and frank” and said that relations between Russia and Britain were “above zero” following the first meeting between a UK defence minister and Russia’s Sergei Shoigu since 2013.
Stressing the need for talks to prevent “miscalculation and escalation”, Mr Wallace expressed his hope that Friday’s meeting had contributed to a “better atmosphere” between the two sides.
“When they say to me they are not going to invade Ukraine we will take that seriously but, as I also said, we will look at the actions that accompany it,” the defence secretary said.
Mr Wallace also agreed with a US assessment that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen “at any time”, amid the ongoing joint military drills between Russia and Belarus.
“The disposition of the Russian forces that we see – over 100,000 in both Belarus and Ukraine – obviously gives that size of force the ability to do a whole range of actions, including an invasion of a neighbouring country at any time,” he said.
His visit to Moscow came a day after Foreign Secretary Liz Truss held frosty talks with her Russian counterpart – with Sergei Lavrov later characterising that meeting as a “conversation between deaf and dumb”.https://widget.spreaker.com/player?episode_id=48454791&theme=light&playlist=false&playlist-continuous=false&chapters-image=true&episode_image_position=right&hide-logo=true&hide-likes=true&hide-comments=true&hide-sharing=true&hide-download=false&cover_image_url=https%3A%2F%2Fd3wo5wojvuv7l.cloudfront.net%2Fimages.spreaker.com%2Foriginal%2F65f824e4cc0515ff91decb1157358660.jpg&color=183f76
Mr Wallace added: “We obviously have made it very clear in NATO that an invasion would have tragic consequences and we are here, and I’m here today for example, to seek a way of whatever we can to deescalate that tension.
“I heard clearly from the Russian government that they had no intention of invading Ukraine. And I also heard some of their concerns.”