Britain warned on Saturday that Russia plans to install a pro-Moscow leader in Ukraine at a time of raising Western alarm over Russia’s immediate invasion of the country.
The Office of Foreign Affairs, Commonwealth and Development said it had evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin had sought to impose a puppet regime while considering invading – and named Yevhen Muraev, a former Ukrainian lawmaker, as a potential leader preferred by Moscow. He did not publish that evidence.
Liz Truss, the British Foreign Secretary, said the discovery “illuminates the scope of Russian activities designed to overthrow Ukraine and represents an insight into the Kremlin’s thinking”.
She added: “Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation and move through diplomacy. As Britain and our partners have repeatedly said, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a huge strategic mistake at great cost.
Muraev is a pro-Russian politician from the city of Kharkov in northern Ukraine. He is a former member of the Party of Regions, the party of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian president who was overthrown in the Maidan revolution in 2014. Muraev created his own Nashi party, named after the Russian youth movement, but a rather minor political figure.
In 2018, Russia itself imposed sanctions on Muraev, who owns a large TV station. On Saturday, he posted a picture of his face photoshopped on a James Bond picture on his Facebook profile and wrote “Details of Tomorrow”, adding smiley emojis.
“I have been under Russian sanctions since 2018 due to the conflict with them [Viktor] Medvedchuk, “Muraev told the pro-Russian website Strana, referring to a rival pro-Putin politician close to Putin whose US allies accused him of being pawns in a similar Russian conspiracy earlier this week.
“My family’s property was confiscated there. “How the UK secret services and the Foreign Office agree with Russia, which allegedly wants to put me at the head of the occupying government, is a question for Mr Bean,” he added.
The Ukrainian parliament has about 50 members who support Moscow and oppose Ukraine’s Western orientation.
The UK also highlighted four other former Ukrainian politicians she said had continued ties to Russian intelligence: Serhiy Arbuzov, Ukraine’s former first deputy prime minister; Andriy Kluyev, Yanukovych’s former chief of staff; Vladimir Sivkovich, former deputy head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council; and Mykola Azarov, former Prime Minister of Ukraine. All four are believed to be in exile in Russia.
The US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Sivkovich this week, saying that in 2021 he “worked with a network of Russian intelligence actors to conduct influential operations trying to build support for Ukraine to officially cede Crimea to Russia in exchange for withdrawing a Russian-backed force in Donbas.” where separatists continue to receive Russian support.
The Treasury Department also accused Sivkovich of collaborating with Russian intelligence in 2020 to promote misinformation about the U.S. presidential election.
Russia has gathered 106,000 troops on the border with its western neighbor, and NATO officials fear a Russian invasion is threatened.
Britain’s allegations of a Russian conspiracy – released in a statement late Saturday – are a very unusual intelligence revelation, but fit into a pattern of Western diplomacy in recent months designed to prosecute Russia’s plans for military action or destabilize Ukraine.
In response to London’s warning, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement quoted by the state news network RIA Novosti: “Disinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is further proof that NATO countries, primarily Anglo-Saxons, are escalating tensions over Ukraine. . ”
“We call on the Foreign Office to end its provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense and focus on studying the history of the Tatar-Mongol yoke,” the ministry added in an apparent study of a recent speech by British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace on common history.
Washington has expressed concern over the allegations. Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said: “This type of conspiracy is deeply worrying. The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their future, and we stand by our democratically elected partners in Ukraine. ”
The White House said Biden had met with his national security team on Saturday and “confirmed that if Russia further attacks Ukraine, the United States will impose swift and severe consequences on Russia with our allies and partners.”
The statement from the United Kingdom arrived at the end of the day when the head of the German navy resigned provoking diplomatic conflict saying that Vladimir Putin should be given “the respect he probably deserves” and claiming that Crimea will never be returned to Ukraine.