On Sunday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry denied a British report that the Kremlin is trying to install a pro-Moscow government in Ukraine, and that former Ukrainian legislator Yevheniy Murayev is a possible candidate.
The British Foreign Office listed numerous more Ukrainian politicians with ties to Russian intelligence agencies on Saturday, including Murayev, the head of a minor party with no members in parliament.
Mykola Azarov, a former prime minister under Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president deposed in a 2014 rebellion, and Andriy Kluyev, Yanukovych’s former chief of staff, are among the politicians.
The Foreign Office stated that “several of these had touch with Russian intelligence agents actively involved in the preparation of an assault on Ukraine.”
Murayev told The Associated Press through Skype that the British allegation “seems absurd and hilarious,” and that he has been banned access to Russia since 2018 due to a security danger. He said the sanctions were imposed as a result of a disagreement with Viktor Medvedchuk, Ukraine’s most renowned pro-Russia politician and a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Murayev’s Nashi party — whose name is a play on the name of a defunct Russian youth movement that backed Putin — is seen as pro-Russian, but Murayev pushed back on the label on Sunday.
In a Facebook post, he added, “The period of pro-Western and pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine is over forever.”
“Everything that opposes Ukraine’s pro-Western growth path is obviously pro-Russian,” Murayev told The Associated Press.
He also stated that he feels that “striving for NATO is equal to maintaining the war” and that “striving for NATO is tantamount to continuing the conflict.” Since 2014, Ukrainian military and rebels supported by Russia have fought in the country’s east, killing over 14,000 people.
Murayev is a prominent person in Ukraine’s pro-Russia camp, according to Ukrainian political expert Volodymyr Fesenko, but he adds: “Murayev is a second-place player.” Murayev, I don’t believe, has any direct ties to the Kremlin.”
The accusation was made by the UK government based on an intelligence assessment, but no proof was provided to back it up. It comes at a time when Moscow and the West are at odds about Russia’s intentions in Ukraine, with each side accusing the other of plotting provocations.
“The British Foreign Office’s deception is another proof that the NATO nations, led by the Anglo-Saxons, are raising tensions surrounding Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on the Telegram messaging app on Sunday. “We demand that the British Foreign Office cease aggressive behavior and promote falsehoods.”
The evidence “sheds light on the scope of Russian action meant to destabilize Ukraine, and gives an insight into Kremlin thought,” according to British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Truss encouraged Russia to “deescalate, halt its campaigns of aggression and deception, and adopt a road of dialogue,” reiterating the United Kingdom’s position that “any Russian military intervention into Ukraine would be a tremendous geopolitical error with terrible repercussions.”
Anti-tank weaponry have been delivered to Ukraine as part of preparations to strengthen the country’s defenses against a possible Russian onslaught.
“I can’t help but be dubious” of the British assertion, said Mark Galeotti, who has written extensively on Russian intelligence agencies.
“This is one of those situations where it’s difficult to know whether we’re dealing with a genuine threat, a misinterpretation of Russian overtures to various Ukrainian figures, or’strategic communication’ — which is what we call propaganda these days when we’re doing it,” Galeotti, an honorary professor of Slavonic and East European Studies at University College London, told the Associated Press.
Although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he couldn’t comment on the British accusation explicitly, he did say that “we’ve been warning about exactly this type of technique for weeks.”
In a CNN interview, he remarked, “This is very much part of the Russian tool box.” “It can range from a large-scale, conventional incursion or invasion of Ukraine to destabilizing operations aimed at toppling the administration.” And it’s critical that people are aware of this.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is distracted by a leadership crisis over lockdown-breaching parties by his staff during the coronavirus pandemic, so the UK government’s unusual decision to release the thinking of British spies, but not the evidence behind it, comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is distracted by a leadership crisis over lockdown-breaching parties by his staff during the coronavirus pandemic.
The British warning was an indication of “the U.K. effectively taking the lead of a robust NATO and European reaction to Russia’s threats to Ukraine,” according to Keir Giles, a Russia expert at Chatham House, an international affairs think tank.
“With the US seemingly willing to engage with Russia’s demands on Moscow’s terms, and the EU irrelevant and asleep at the wheel, it has fallen to the United Kingdom to deal with the challenge both in terms of rhetoric… and in terms of direct action, raising the likely cost of a Russian incursion in Ukraine by providing direct shipments of defensive munitions,” Giles said.
In Moscow, U.K. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is set to meet Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for discussions as part of diplomatic attempts to calm the problem. The meeting, which would be the first bilateral defense discussions between the UK and Russia since 2013, has yet to be scheduled.
In recent months, the US has launched an aggressive push to rally its European allies against a fresh Russian invasion of Ukraine. The White House described the UK government’s assessment as “very disturbing” and stated that it supports Ukraine’s legally elected government.
“The people of Ukraine have the sovereign right to select their own destiny, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine,” said Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.
President Joe Biden spent Saturday at Camp David, his presidential hideaway outside of Washington, debating the Ukraine issue with his top national security staff. The conversations covered efforts to de-escalate the situation through diplomacy and deterrent measures that were carefully coordinated with friends and partners, including security support to Ukraine, according to a White House official.
In response to rising worries of a Russian invasion, the US State Department ordered all American workers at the American Embassy in Ukraine to leave the country on Sunday. The action occurred amid escalating tensions between the US and Russia, which were not alleviated during Friday’s negotiations.