Russia is moving closer to war in Ukraine despite assurances from Moscow of a de-escalation, a minister has warned.
James Heappey, minister for the armed forces, said he was “worried” at the prospect of more Russian troops moving towards the Ukrainian border, despite apparent assurances from Moscow that it was scaling back its operation.
It comes after Russia’s defence ministry released footage appearing to show troops leaving the border with Ukraine.
But Heappey dismissed Moscow’s claims and accused it of waging a “disinformation campaign”.
“Unfortunately, despite the message coming out of the Kremlin that troops were going to start moving away from the Ukrainian border, over the last 48 hours, we’ve seen the opposite and more troops still arriving,” Heappey told Sky News.
He said that while he could not confirm an anonymous briefing from the US overnight that more than 7,000 troops had moved forward, it “definitely illustrates that more troops are moving closer to the Ukrainian border”.
“Bridges are being built, field hospitals constructed, and all of that, I think, is quite worrying, and goes to underline the imminence of all of this, if not the inevitability,” he said,
Asked whether he believed the West was closer to seeing a war or an invasion of Ukraine than was the case on Monday, Heappey replied: “My view is closer.
“The pictures that have been released by the Russian Ministry of Defence purporting to show armour moving away from the Ukrainian border —unfortunately, our view is that it’s inaccurate, it’s disinformation.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will fly to Ukraine later today to deliver a speech in which she will warn Russia that it faces “pariah status” if it shuns the diplomatic route out of conflict in Ukraine.
In her speech, Truss is expected to say: “We want to live in a world where people are in charge of their own future, free from aggression and coercion, where security is truly indivisible and where nations respect the sovereignty of others, and live up to their commitments.
“That means working together with our friends in Ukraine and beyond to face down threats wherever they are across the world.
“I urge Russia to take the path of diplomacy. We are ready to talk.
“But we are very clear — if they decide to continue down the path of aggression, there will be massive consequences bringing Russia severe economic costs and pariah status.”
Russia has continued to deny that it is planning to invade Ukraine despite an estimated 130,000 troops amassing on the border.
On Wednesday the Kremlin claimed it had uncovered evidence that “thousands of Russian-speaking civilians” had been killed in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine and that it would launch a criminal investigation into the alleged “mass civilian graves”.
Western intelligence has repeatedly warned that Russia would prepare a so-called “pretext” of Ukrainian aggression to “justify” any invasion.
A US spokesperson told a press briefing on Wednesday that such planted stories were“entirely untrue.”
“This, however has not stopped the Russians from advancing these false claims, to include reports of unmarked mass graves of civilians allegedly killed by Ukrainian armed forces, and statements that the United States or Ukraine are developing biological or chemical weapons... for use in the Russian-controlled territories,” Ned Price told reporters.