The British Foreign Office says the Kremlin plans to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine

“Former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev is being considered as a potential candidate,” said the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Murayev told CNN on Saturday that “there is nothing to comment on” regarding the allegations, as he is a Ukrainian citizen and still faces Russian sanctions.

The statement went on to mention four other former Ukrainian officials, saying: “We have information that the Russian intelligence services maintain links with several former Ukrainian politicians”, including Serhiy Arbuzov, Ukraine’s First Deputy Prime Minister from 2012 to 2014, and acting Prime Minister. in 2014; Andriy Kluyev, First Deputy Prime Minister from 2010 to 2012 and Chief of Staff of the former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, Vladimir Sivkovich, former Deputy Chief of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council (RNBO); Mykola Azarov, Prime Minister of Ukraine from 2010-2014, said it.

“Some of these are in contact with Russian intelligence officers who are currently involved in planning an attack on Ukraine,” the British Foreign Office added. Russia has denied allegations that it plans to attack Ukraine.

Early Sunday, Russia’s foreign minister called on Britain’s foreign ministry to “stop participating in provocations,” the state news agency TASS reported.

“The misinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is further proof that it is the NATO countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, that are escalating tensions around Ukraine. We urge the British Foreign Office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense and focus about studying the history of the Tatar-Mongolian yoke, “a representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry told TASS.

CNN contacted the British Foreign Office on Saturday further comment on his allegations, as well as supporting evidence, but it said it would not comment further.

“The information released today sheds light on the scale of Russian activity designed to undermine Ukraine, and is an insight into the Kremlin’s thinking,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said in a statement.

“Russia must de-escalate, end its aggression and disinformation campaigns, and pursue the path of diplomacy,” Truss said. “As Britain and our partners have repeatedly said, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with serious costs.”

CNN also contacted the U.S. State Department and the White House for comment.

A source informed by the US and British intelligence services confirmed that the US has similar evidence as the UK, regarding Russia’s plan to install a friendly government in Ukraine.

“Yes, we have seen intelligence that Russia is looking at ways to minimize a long, protracted war. That includes things like setting up a friendly government and using its spy agencies to stir up disagreement,” the source said.

Another informed source said the United States “has the same information.”

Russia has in the past been accused of trying to sow chaos in Ukraine through cyber attacks and allegedly planning to take control of the government in Kiev. But the Kremlin has repeatedly denied that it plans to invade.
CNN previously reported that the United States accused Russia of recruiting current and former Ukrainian government officials to try to take control of the Ukrainian government when it unveiled new sanctions on Thursday.

The Ministry of Finance rolled out sanctions against four current and former Ukrainian officials who it said were involved in Kremlin-controlled influence activities to destabilize Ukraine. These recently sanctioned individuals include Taras Romanovych Kozak, Volodymyr Mykolayovych Oliynyk, Vladimir Leonidovich Sivkovich and Oleh Voloshyn.

Sivkovich was the only former Ukrainian politician mentioned in both American and British communications.

The Ministry of Finance said the four people – two of whom are current members of Ukraine’s parliament – acted under the leadership of a Russian-sanctioned Russian intelligence service and played “different roles” in Russia’s “global influence campaign to destabilize sovereign countries in support of the Kremlin’s political goals. ”

U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne expressed solidarity with Ukraine when the British Foreign Office said it had information that the Russian government plans to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine, calling the plot “deeply worrying”.

“This kind of plot is deeply troubling,” Horne said. “The Ukrainian people have a sovereign right to decide their own future, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine.”

Romania and Bulgaria criticize Russia’s demand to move NATO troops

It comes as NATO members Romania and Bulgaria criticized Russia’s demands to remove alliance troops from both countries as “unacceptable”, each claiming that the Kremlin has no right to interfere in the foreign policy decisions of other sovereign states.

The comments from both countries came just hours after Russia’s foreign ministry reaffirmed its demand that NATO withdraw troops from parts of Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria and Romania. The two countries are located on the Black Sea, which analysts believe Moscow sees as an important geostrategic buffer zone between itself and Europe.

Romania’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Saturday “such a claim is unacceptable and cannot be negotiated.” The Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Moscow to “show respect for the foreign policy choices that Bulgaria has deliberately made.” Bulgaria’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Marin Raykov, told the BBC that the Kremlin’s demands were “an expression of contempt for Bulgaria’s sovereign right to choose the sources of national security guarantees.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on January 21, 2022 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Russia and NATO have been at war since the end of last year, when the Kremlin put an estimated 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. The military stance has given rise to fears that Russia is planning another intervention in Ukraine after invading and illegally annexing the Crimean peninsula in 2014. That same year, Moscow began supporting a pro-Russian separatist movement in eastern Ukraine that has left behind thousands died.

In its statement, Romania said that NATO’s military presence in Eastern Europe was “a strictly defensive response to the increasingly aggressive behavior of the Russian Federation … which started in 2014. when the Ukrainian territory of Crimea was illegally occupied by Russia.”

“This behavior continues to intensify in the present, despite NATO’s attempts to engage in a constructive dialogue,” the statement said.

The US Embassy in Kiev is asking the State Department to allow the departure of unnecessary staff

The United States and its NATO allies have repeatedly warned Russia that any movement of its troops into Ukrainian territory would be met with what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called “a serious and concerted reaction.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed in recent weeks that his country is the wronged party, and is reacting to NATO’s cooperation with Ukraine and the alliance’s enlargement to the east since the fall of the Soviet Union – which Russia considers an existential security threat.

Diplomats from all sides have tried to negotiate a peaceful solution, although one of Russia’s core demands – that NATO withdraw foreign military forces and equipment from members of the alliance that joined after 1997 – was quickly considered a non-starter by Western diplomats. . .

“NATO allies are ready to enter into dialogue with Russia, but we will not compromise on the core principles,” said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier this month. “We will not compromise the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any nation in Europe, and we will not compromise the right of all countries to choose their own path, including what kind of security arrangements they want to be a part of, and will not compromise the right of allies to protect and defend each other. “

Weapons sent to Ukraine

In recent days, NATO members have deployed military equipment and personnel to members of the Eastern Alliance in response to Russia’s troop build-up in Ukraine.

The Dutch defense minister said the Netherlands would send two F-35 jets together with support personnel to Bulgaria in April or May, while the Spanish defense minister offered to send fighter jets and a warship to the Black Sea.

The alliance has also begun sending weapons to Kiev to deter a potential Russian invasion and strengthen Ukraine’s defensive capabilities.

Light anti-tank weapons from Britain have already arrived in the country, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday, while the Czech Republic plans to donate 152-millimeter caliber artillery ammunition to Ukraine in the coming days, Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová said on Friday.

Germany will supply a fully equipped field hospital to Ukraine, according to the German Ministry of Defense. The country has traditionally avoided exporting weapons to crisis areas since World War II, but German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said earlier this week that “all measures” will be on the table if further Russian aggression against Ukraine comes.

The US embassy in Kiev said on Friday that the first shipment of US-controlled equipment – 200,000 pounds of lethal aid, including ammunition for frontline fighters – had arrived in Ukraine.
Although US President Joe Biden ruled out sending US combat troops to Ukraine, Washington has approved the shipment of US weapons of origin to Kiev – including highly coveted US anti-aircraft systems from Latvia and Lithuania. These armaments would help Ukraine avert Russian aircraft, which some officials and experts believe would lead in the early stages of a Russian invasion. Estonia received approval to transfer anti-tank Javelin-guided missile systems that the United States has provided to Ukraine in the past.

CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Nic Robertson, Lauren Kent, Ivana Kottasová, Vasco Cotovio, Aliza Kassim Khalidi and Darya Tarasovaf contributed to this report.

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