Vladimir Putin on brink of Ukraine invasion as aides give verdict: Now is time

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Russia has warned that Ukraine will be responsible for its own destruction if it undermines existing peace agreements. Senior diplomat Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations (UN), made the conclusion during a combative security council debate on the crisis. It comes as Russia has amassed 120,000 troops near its shared border with Ukraine, a move which has been condemned by Western powers.

This week, the UK said it was “highly likely” that Russia, a major gas supplier to Europe, was looking to invade Ukraine — a point which Moscow contests.

Kiev, meanwhile, has urged Russia to pull back its troops from the border and continue dialogue with the West if it is ‘serious” about de-escalating tensions that are currently at an all time high.

However, Professor Julian Lindley French, an internationally recognised strategic analyst and advisor in defence who has worked with NATO, suggests that Russia is now unlikely to back down.

He told Express.co.uk that Putin’s advisors in the Kremlin who are “competing for his ear” will be keen on Russia exploiting the situation which currently appears in its favour.

Describing the Kremlin as a “medieval court”, he said: “The advisors are competing for his ear, and if I was one of those advisors right now I would be saying, ‘Well Mr Putin if you really want to do this, this is the time.

“‘Your modernised forces are at peak efficiency, Europeans are reliant upon you for much of their gas, there are some divisions within NATO.

“‘The Americans have very difficult domestic issues which they would prefer to deal with. COVID-19 is at its peak impact on European economies in particular — this is a chance to expose the deep divisions.’

“This is part of Putin’s wider European security strategy which is, if he got hold of Ukraine, he’d turn Belarus into a puppet state and claim Ukraine back under his sphere of influence.

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“He’d then be influencing the states in the Black Sea region.

“He’d be coercing even NATO and EU countries like the Baltic states, like Finland, like Bulgaria and Romania.

“Irrespective of their affiliations with the EU and NATO, Russia would have demonstrated that it can achieve its objective to coerce other countries to do what it wants, to be compliant with its aims.”

Jens Stoltenberg, the head of NATO, has since warned that Europe needs to diversify its energy supplies in the event of an attack from Russia.

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The country is the largest provider of natural gas to Europe, sending about 40 percent of the continent’s supplies by shipped pipeline.

Things like the Nord Stream projects have made this more entrenched, a direct pipeline between Russia and Europe.

Russia has demanded that the western defence alliance pull back troops and weapons from eastern Europe and bar Ukraine, a former Soviet state, from joining NATO.

This weekend, US officials said Russia’s military buildup had been expanded to include supplies to treat casualties of any conflict.

Locals trained as army reservists in Ukraine have scrambled to prepare for any potential conflict, with civilians ready to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.

While Moscow denies it plans to invade Ukraine, it asked NATO during talks to clarify whether it intended to implement key security commitments, after previously saying the alliance’s response to its demands did not go far enough.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told Russian state television: “If they do not intend to do so, then they should explain why.

“This will be a key question in determining our future proposals.”

The US said it is waiting to hear back from Russia.

It says NATO will not withdraw from eastern Europe or bar Ukraine from the possibility of future entry, but is prepared to discuss topics such as arms control and confidence-building measures.

US senators are believed to be edging closer towards agreeing on sanctions against Russia, which include measures targeting the most significant Russian banks and Russian sovereign debt, as well as offering more lethal assistance to Ukraine.

Some of the sanctions could be imposed before any invasion because of what Russia has already done, according to Bob Menendez, senator for New Jersey.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has today flown to Ukraine in an effort to show support for the country.

He was supposed to speak with Putin over the phone on Monday, but delayed following the release of Sue Gray’s report.

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