Boris Johnson has said there have been signs of a “diplomatic opening” over the Ukraine crisis, but that Russia is still sending out “mixed messages” and the threat of war is not over.
The Prime Minister today welcomed the changed tone of the Kremlin, and the removal of some Russian troops from the Ukrainian border, but added there were still signs of further preparations for war.
He said UK intelligence had shown there is still 130,000 troops stationed next to Ukraine and that today new temporary field hospitals were being built by Russia along the border.
Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg today said there were reasons for “cautious optimism”, but that he has not seen “any sign of de-escalation” on the Ukrainian border by Russia.
Johnson warned that Russia is still ready to invade Ukraine “virtually at any time”.
“Last night, going into today, clearly there are signs of diplomatic opening – there always has been an opportunity to talk,” Johnson told Sky News.
“A conversation about Ukraine, with Ukraine and that’s good we’re seeing Russia open to conversations. On the other hand, the intelligence we’ve seen today is still not encouraging.
“We’ve got Russian field hospitals being constructed near the border of Ukraine in Belarus in what only can be construed as preparation for an invasion. So mixed signals we’re seeing at the moment and all the more reason for us to remain very tough and very united. Particularly on the economic sanctions.”
Russian media reported this morning that military units had been pulled back from the Ukrainian border, after a statement from the country’s defence department.
“Units of the Southern and Western military districts, having completed their tasks, have already begun loading onto rail and road transport and today they will begin moving to their military garrisons,” a defence department spokesperson said.
Kremlin spokespeople went on the attack against Nato after the announcement, with Putin aide Dmitry Peskov saying “we have always said that after the exercises are over … troops would return to their permanent bases” and that the west had tried to “provoke tensions”.
Russian foreign office spokesperson Maria Zakharova said: “February 15, 2022, will go down in history as the day when western war propaganda failed.
“They were humiliated and defeated without a single shot.”
It comes after there appeared to be a breakthrough last night as Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov claimed there was a “way forward” in the Ukrainian crisis during a heavily scripted one-on-one video appearance with Putin.
When asked about the prospects of a security agreement with the west, Lavrov said: “There’s always a chance.”