Speaking in Westminster on Monday, defense secretary Ben Wallace urged Russia to “re-commit to a diplomatic process” for “the sake of his own people” as he warned “we are on the cusp of the invasion of a democratic country in Europe” .
Mr Putin has held an emergency meeting with his security council and is considering a request from the leaders of two regions in eastern Europe held by Russian-backed separatists to be recognized as independent – a move that could justify his moving more troops into the area and would see the Kremlin officially give up on the 2015 peace deals that recognize Ukraine’s sovereignty over the territories.
Unconfirmed reports late on Monday afternoon claimed Ukrainian officials said a civilian was killed in frontline shelling on the eastern Ukraine border. Pro-Russian separatist authorities said at least four civilians were killed by Ukrainian shelling over the past 24 hours and several others were wounded.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin dashed hopes of a potential summit between US president Joe Biden and Mr Putin brokered by French president Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Wallace said he had seen “the Russian playbook being implemented in a way that gives us strong cause for concern that President Putin is still committed to an invasion”.
“That should worry us all,” he said.
Mr Wallace said the UK Government needed to be in a position to threaten sanctions, but should not do so without co-ordinated support from the US and European Union. The EU on Monday finalized its package of sanctions for use if Russia orders an invasion.
The defense secretary said: “I think that there are plenty of measures we can take, we are planning some serious sanctions. And I think that the reality of that question to President Putin is ‘do you actually care what’s going to happen to your people, because it’ll be them that suffer most?’”
Mr Wallace said the Government had learned lessons from a lack of action in 2014, when Russia invaded and subsequently annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.
He said: “We have to stand up to this because we didn’t stand up in 2014 as an international community. The Prime Minister has been very clear that one inch over the border on this will lead to the sanctions: one boot, one tank, one vehicle. We won’t accept it as anything other than an invasion.”
Read more: How the West is trying to stay one step ahead in Putin’s playbook
He said countries such as Yemen, which gets 20 per cent of its grain from Ukraine, would also be affected by the conflict.
Mr Wallace pointed to the television career of former prime minister and SNP leader Alex Salmond – now the leader of Alba – who hosts a political chat show on Russian state broadcaster Russia Today.
He said: “I think the new leader of Alba might like to reflect on his celebrity status on some of those channels.”
Mr Wallace said the UK Government had a responsibility to ensure that Ukrainians – as well as the rest of the world – had access to free press and accurate information to debunk fake news.
He added: “We could ask the leader of Alba on his next Russia Today programs to do an in-depth analysis of exactly some of these false claims and broadcast it. I’m sure he’s open to the highest bidder.”
French leader Mr Macron said on Sunday he had brokered a meeting between Mr Biden and Mr Putin. However, the Kremlin dismissed the suggestion as “premature” in a move that sent international financial markets, which had risen on the news, back down.
Mr Macron’s office said both leaders had “accepted the principle of such a summit”, to be followed by a broader meeting that would include other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe”.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov are set to lay the groundwork for the potential summit when they meet on Thursday.
The meeting comes after the US administration sent a letter to the United Nations human rights chief claiming Moscow has compiled a list of Ukrainians to be killed or sent to detention camps after the invasion. The list is believed to include members of the LGBTQ+ community and religious minorities, as well as journalists and people opposed to Russian actions.
Since Thursday, shelling has spiked along the tense line of contact that separates Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland of Donbas. More than 14,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted there in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Ukraine and the separatist rebels have traded blame for massive ceasefire violations, with hundreds of explosions recorded daily. Images have emerged of damage to schools and Kindergartens in the region.
Mr Putin said he would decide on the regions’ request for recognition as independent territories by the end of the day, with the decision coming after televised appeals by separatist leaders, who pleaded with Mr Putin to sign friendship treaties envisaging military aid to protect them from what they describe as the ongoing Ukrainian military offensive.
Russia and its ally Belarus announced on Sunday they were extending massive war games on Belarus’s territory, which many believe could offer a staging ground for an attack on the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, located less than 50 miles south of the border.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.