Russia denies plotting to place puppet ruler in Ukraine as military build-up continues

US warns Kremlin of ‘massive consequences’ if it launches new attack on Ukraine

A Ukrainian military forces serviceman on the frontline with the Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Lugansk region. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty

A Ukrainian military forces serviceman on the frontline with the Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Lugansk region. Photograph: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty

 

Moscow has denied a British claim that it is plotting to install a puppet government in Kyiv, as Russian forces continued to move towards Ukraine and western states accelerated their supply of military aid to the embattled country.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova rejected London’s assertion that it had “information that indicates the Russian government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to invade and occupy Ukraine”.

“The disinformation spread by the British foreign office is more evidence that it is Nato countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine,” Ms Zakharova said on Sunday. “We call on the British foreign office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense.”

London said Russian intelligence was in contact with several pro-Moscow Ukrainian politicians over the alleged plan, and named former Ukrainian deputy Yevhen Murayev as a “potential candidate” to lead the regime.

“There’ll be very serious consequences if Russia takes this move to try and invade but also install a puppet regime,” said UK deputy prime minister Dominic Raab.

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Mr Murayev said the foreign office “seemed confused” and brushed off the allegations, while analysts in Ukraine described the former deputy as an unlikely leadership figure, but noted that Moscow had also chosen marginal politicians to be the public faces of occupied Crimea and militia-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine.

The US last week imposed sanctions on four current and former Ukrainian officials it accuses of working with Moscow’s intelligence agencies to destabilise Ukraine, which fears the Kremlin is planning an all-out invasion after it sent 100,000 troops and echelons of armour towards the Russia-Ukraine border.

‘Lethal aid’

The US said it delivered a shipment of some 90 tonnes of “lethal aid” including ammunition to Kyiv over the weekend and gave approval to the Baltic states to send US-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine; Washington also plans to ship five military transport helicopters to Ukraine.

Britain last week sent 2,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and a team of trainers, and Canada deployed a small special forces unit to the country to assess its defence needs and plan for the possible evacuation of Canadian diplomats.

“We are alarmed by reports that some member countries of Nato have stepped up the deployment of lethal weapons and military personnel to Ukraine,” said Alexander Lukashevich, Russia’s envoy to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe. “There is every indication that the task remains the same – to fuel tensions near Russia’s borders at any cost,” he added.

Russia expects to receive written responses from the US this week to a sweeping list of security requests, including demands that Nato shut its door to any new members in eastern Europe and withdraw its forces from the region.

Washington calls those demands “non-starters”, and US secretary of state Antony Blinken warned on Sunday that Russia would face “a swift, a severe and a united response from us and from Europe” if it launched a new attack on Ukraine.

“We’ve given Russia two paths. There’s a path of diplomacy and dialogue ... But there’s also a path of its renewed aggression and massive consequences.”