The US said Moscow’s efforts to destabilise Ukraine were “part of the Russian playbook” after the UK issued a stark warning of an alleged plot to install a puppet government in Kyiv.
Antony Blinken, US secretary of state, said on Sunday that Washington had been “concerned” for weeks about Russian tactics, including efforts by president Vladimir Putin to replace Kyiv’s government.
He was speaking after the UK said in an extraordinary statement late on Saturday that it had evidence Russia was planning to install a pro-Moscow leader in Ukraine — and named the figure preferred by the Kremlin.
Asked about the threat to topple Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and his government, Blinken told CBS this was “part of the Russian playbook”.
Russia has massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border and vowed “the most unpredictable and grave consequences for European security” if the US does not concede to its demands to roll back Nato’s expansion.
Blinken told CBS the US remained committed to diplomacy with Russia but was at the same time building up “defence and deterrence”.
“We’ve now provided to Ukraine more security assistance this year than in any previous year. We have rallied allies and partners around the world. We are preparing massive consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine again,” he told NBC.
The US has sought to find common ground with Moscow on issues such as arms control, but warned that Russia’s core grievances against the transatlantic military alliance — which would in essence rewrite the entire post-Cold War security order, if met — were unacceptable.
US and European allies have vowed “crippling” sanctions against Russia for aggression against Ukraine and sought to expose its plans by releasing selected intelligence, but they have struggled to agree on the details of how to respond.
The UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office named the pro-Russian leader Moscow wanted to install in Ukraine as Yevhen Murayev, a former Ukrainian MP who owns a major TV station, but did not provide evidence. Murayev denied the claim as well as mocking it.
Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed the accusations as “nonsense” and accused the UK of escalating tensions around Ukraine.
The Russian embassy in London said: “The logic is simple: let no day pass without accusing Russia of preparing an ‘imminent’ invasion of Ukraine, and, on this concocted ‘basis’, try to play the ideological leader of the ‘free world’ defending itself from ‘autocrats’.”
Tensions among western allies spilled out into the open again at the weekend as the head of Germany’s navy resigned after saying Putin “only wants respect” and that Crimea — which was annexed by Russia in 2014 — would never be returned to Ukraine.
Blinken insisted that the “Germans very much share our concerns” about Russian aggression and were part of a united front between Europe and the US.
“I am very convinced there will be a united response to whatever Russia does,” he said, whether Moscow sends forces into Ukraine or resorts to using “hybrid actions, cyber attacks, efforts to bring a government down”, he told CBS.
Washington this week placed sanctions on four individuals it accused of trying to destabilise Ukraine on behalf of the Russian government. They included Vladimir Sivkovich, ex-deputy head of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, who the UK cited on Saturday as one of the Ukrainian politicians with continued links to Russian intelligence services.
Blinken told CBS that while the US was engaging in diplomacy, Nato would “continue to be reinforced in a significant way if Russia commits renewed acts of aggression”.
The US has promised to send a written response to Russia’s draft security proposals this week after talks with Moscow in Geneva and Brussels failed to reach a breakthrough