The UK defence secretary has agreed with a US assessment that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen “at any time” – but he expressed his hope that recent diplomacy had helped to “de-escalate” the crisis.
Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, following talks with his Russian counterpart, Ben Wallace said he had held “constructive and frank” discussions.
He said he had received further assurances from Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu that Moscow would not make an incursion into Ukraine.
Mr Wallace said his wish was that Thursday’s talks had contributed to a “better atmosphere” between Russia and NATO countries, and said that relations between Moscow and London were “above zero”.
But the defence secretary also added: “There is still considerable way to go between the two of us”.
Earlier on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated the White House view that a Russian invasion of Ukraine “could begin at any time”.
Asked for his own assessment, Mr Wallace said: “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 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 de-escalate 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.”