Boris to call Putin and visit Eastern Europe to 'ramp up deterrence' amid Ukraine crisis

29 January 2022, 07:38 | Updated: 29 January 2022, 09:49

Boris Johnson and Vladimir Putin will speak over the phone this weekend.
Boris Johnson and Vladimir Putin will speak over the phone this weekend. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

Boris Johnson will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone and visit Eastern Europe in the coming days amid rising fears of a potential military invasion in Ukraine.

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Downing Street says the Prime Minister will repeat the need for Russia to "engage diplomatically", following reports the military buildup near Ukraine has expanded to include supplies of blood along with other medical materials that would allow it to treat casualties.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister is determined to accelerate diplomatic efforts and ramp up deterrence to avoid bloodshed in Europe.

"He will reiterate the need for Russia to step back and engage diplomatically when he speaks to President Putin this week."

This weekend Mr Johnson will also consider a range of options to alleviate Russian aggression in the region, including fresh deployments and bolstering Nato's defences.

Read more: Russia's sons won't come home if they invade Ukraine: Boris issues stark warning to Putin

Read more: US paratroops on standby and UK braced for Russian cyber attacks as Ukraine tensions rise

The Foreign Office is also expected to announce tougher sanctions on Monday, meaning the UK can target Russia's strategic and financial interests.

Tensions have soared in recent weeks, as Nato allies expressed concern a build-up of about 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine signalled Moscow planned to invade its ex-Soviet neighbour.

Russia denies having any such designs and has laid out a series of demands it says will improve security in Europe.

Chris Philp, a minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, said there is "deep concern" about the "unprecedented" build-up of Russian troops on the border, particularly after units from the east of Russia redeployed to the region.

"I think it is a very serious situation," he told Sky News.

It comes as US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine's president there is a "distinct possibility" Russia could take military action against Ukraine in February.

The Kremlin sounded a similarly grim note, saying it saw "little ground for optimism" in resolving the crisis after the US this week again rejected Russia's main demands.

Read more: Russia not 'dumb enough' to launch full-scale Ukraine invasion - ex-ambassador

The White House said President Biden's comments to Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelenskyy, amplified concerns that administration officials have been making for some time.

"President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February," White House National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said.

"He has said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months."

Earlier this week Mr Johnson joined a call with US President Joe Biden and European leaders, where it was agreed diplomacy should continue, but also to prepare massive economic consequences if Moscow invades.

"We agreed that we would respond in unison to any Russian attack on Ukraine, in unison by imposing co-ordinated and severe economic sanctions heavier than anything we have done before against Russia," Mr Johnson said.

"And we agreed on the necessity of finalising these measures as swiftly as possible in order to maximise their deterrent effect."

Read more: Ukraine: UK in 'advanced' talks over sending hundreds of troops as Russian invasion threat looms

He added: "We in the UK will not hesitate to toughen our national sanctions against Russia in response to whatever President Putin may do, and the House will soon hear more on this from... the Foreign Secretary.

"We've already declassified compelling intelligence, exposing Russian intent to install a puppet regime in Ukraine. And we will continue to disclose any Russian use of cyber attacks, false flag operations or disinformation."

Russia's foreign minister said Liz Truss has "agreed a date" to visit Moscow within the next two weeks.

The Foreign Secretary's visit would be the first to the country since 2017, when Boris Johnson met with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

She told the Commons earlier this month that Russia has "no justification whatsoever" for its aggression towards Ukraine.

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