Russia will face severe economic sanctions if it installs a puppet regime in Ukraine, a senior British minister said on Sunday after the UK accused the Kremlin of trying to install a pro-Russian leader there.
There will be very serious consequences if Russia is going to try and invade but also install a puppet regime, British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News.
Britain made the accusation late on Saturday, saying Russian intelligence officers had been in contact with a number of former Ukrainian politicians as part of plans for an invasion.
The Russian Foreign Ministry dismissed the British allegation as disinformation, accusing NATO of escalating tensions over Ukraine. The British claims came after top U.S. and Russian diplomats failed on Friday to make a major breakthrough in talks to resolve the crisis over Ukraine, which was sparked by Russia massing troops near its border with the country.
Officials in Moscow have insisted they have no plans to invade, and both they and their American counterparts have agreed to keep talking. The tension remains high.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department announced that it was ordering the departure of eligible family members from Embassy Kyiv due to the threat of Russian military action.
U.S. President Joe Biden has begun considering options for boosting America's military assets in the region, senior administration officials said after meeting top national security aides at his Camp David retreat on Saturday.
The New York Times stated that Biden is mulling a plan to send 1,000 to 5,000 troops to Eastern Europe, with the possibility of increasing the number if tensions flare further.
A senior administration official said on Sunday we are working on plans and we are consulting with allies to determine options moving forward. With the world watching Moscow's next move closely, the British foreign ministry said it had information that the Russian government is considering former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevhen Murayev as a potential candidate to lead a pro-Russian leadership.
Murayev himself poured cold water on the notion that Russia wants to install him as Ukraine's leader, in comments to British newspapers and in an interview with Reuters.
Murayev told a video call this morning that he was considering legal action after he read this conspiracy theory in all news publications: absolutely unproven, absolutely unfounded.
He denied having any contact with Russian intelligence officers and dismissed the idea that he could be in league with the Kremlin as stupid, given that he was placed under Russian sanctions in 2018.
Although he wants Ukraine to be independent from Russia and the West, Murayev, 45, has promoted some views that align with the Kremlin's narratives on Ukraine.
The British foreign ministry didn't provide evidence to back up its accusations. In a message to the Russians, Mykhailo Podolyak, a Ukrainian adviser to the presidential office, said there was doubt among Ukrainians whether Murayev was too ridiculous to be the Kremlin's pick to lead Ukraine.
He said Russia had propped up previously minor figures in leadership positions in annexed Crimea and separatist-held Donbass.
He said that one should take this information as seriously as possible.
The United States described the alleged plotting over Ukraine as deeply concerning, and U.S. officials said they were bracing for Russian action.
The State Department on Sunday authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. government employees and said all Americans should consider leaving immediately.
The Department of State has ordered the departure of eligible family members from Embassy Kyiv due to the continued threat of Russian military action, and authorized the voluntary departure of U.S. direct hire employees.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has so far rebuffed calls to immediately impose economic sanctions on Russia, but on Sunday said that it would undermine the West's ability to deter potential Russian aggression against Ukraine.
The United States has sent military assistance to Ukraine, but it has held back from sending American troops.
U.S. troop deployments were discussed, but a senior administration official said that the US economic penalties on Russia would have far-reaching consequences if it invades Ukraine.
Russia has made a series of demands on the United States, including a halt to NATO's eastward expansion and a pledge that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the Western military alliance.