Downing Street today said Vladimir Putin’s plan to invade Ukraine had “already begun”.
The UK government still believes that Russia intends to mount an invasion of its neighbour because Moscow’s plan can be seen playing out in “real time”.
Asked if they thought an invasion was growing more likely, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said on Monday: “Intelligence we are seeing suggests Russia intends to launch an invasion and president Putin’s plan has in effect already begun.”
Pressed on what he meant, the spokesman replied: “We’re seeing elements of the Russian playbook that we would expect to see in those certain situations starting to play out in real time.
“We’ve been working with NATO allies to call that out when we see it and the intelligence we have suggests that they still intend to launch an invasion and we stand ready to act as needed.”
He stressed the UK still believed there was a “window for diplomacy” and added: “I think that is what we have seen in discussions over the weekend and we want to explore those.”
The spokesman said defence secretary Ben Wallace will make a statement to MPs later on Monday.
It comes after foreign secretary Liz Truss warned that an invasion appeared “highly likely” despite Joe Biden and Putin tentatively agreeing to hold a crisis summit.
The US President agreed during last-ditch diplomatic efforts to meet his Russian counterpart on the condition Moscow does not invade.
But after meeting Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels, Truss tweeted: “Diplomacy must be pursued but a Russian invasion of Ukraine looks highly likely.
“The UK and allies are stepping up preparations for the worst case scenario. We must make the cost for Russia intolerably high.”
The prospect of talks also did little to dampen fears an attack was imminent in Washington, with the White House saying the Kremlin was continuing to prepare a “full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon”.
In the UK, business minister Paul Scully warned that Moscow had amassed 7,000 extra troops on the Ukrainian border within the past few days.
“So there is a very, very credible threat and that’s why we’ve got to continue to be vigilant, we’ve got to continue to work with Ukraine and Poland, as Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, was doing just this week,” he told Sky News.
The minister also warned “the loss of life will be horrendous” if Putin does not engage in diplomacy after French president Emmanuel Macron sought to broker a meeting during a series of calls.
Heavy shelling in Ukraine continued on Monday in the heightened tension between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels in the Donbas region.
Johnson and other Western allies have suggested the shelling was part of a “false flag” attempt by the Russians to stage a pretext to attack.