EXCLUSIVE: Sources told the Daily Mirror UK senior commanders and Whitehall officials are on ‘high alert’ with the usual calming voices describing Russian forces as appearing to be on a war-footing
The Russia-Ukraine crisis could explode into all-out war within days after Moscow amassed close to 100,000 troops at the flashpoint border, it was feared last night.
Senior Ukraine military sources fear Moscow’s war-planners may have wrong-footed Kiev by being far more battle-ready for a major land and sea attack than previously suspected.
Until recently Ukraine’s senior commanders calculated that if Putin orders an attack deep into East Ukraine and elsewhere it was most likely to come in mid-May.
But today Putin’s navy piled on further pressure on embattled Kiev by announcing the deployment of a war-fighting fleet towards Ukraine arriving within days.
Last night sources told the Daily Mirror UK senior commanders and Whitehall officials are on “high alert” over the crisis and are monitoring the situation “with growing concern.”
One said: “Aggressive Russian troop movements towards the border have caused a great deal of concern within the Ministry of Defence.
More than ten heavily-armed Russian warships are now steaming towards the Caspian Sea from the Black Sea, armed with artillery and other weapons to back Putin’s land forces.
Russia’s Defence Ministry announced it was moving more than ten navy vessels, including landing boats and artillery warships to the Black Sea to take part in exercises.
But western nations and Ukraine have voiced alarm over the build-up as a five strong alliance or “QUINT” of the UK, US, Canada, Lithuania and Poland allies backed Ukraine.
UK defence Secretary Ben Wallace was among the Quint which issued a statement warning Russia: “The Quint Defence Ministers are united in our unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of increased Russian military activity.
“We will work closely with Ukraine to monitor the situation and continue to call on Russia to de-escalate.”
The Russian Ministry of Defence said in a statement: “As part of the winter training check, more than 10 amphibious and artillery boats and vessels of the southern military district are conducting an inter-fleet move from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea.”
Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based in Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
It is feared that within days more than 95,000 assault troops, backed by tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and even thermobaric rocket batteries will be ready to invade.
More trucks were arriving at the border in the past few days, many carrying rocket launching batteries but were alarmingly without number plates, indicating Moscow wants to keep their numbers as covert as possible.
The entire region has been buzzed by Moscow’s surveillance drones, indicating Moscow is trying to find weak points.
Russian troops have also been equipped with sophisticated river-crossing bridge-engineering equipment, further fuelling alarm that they may be poised to invade at multiple points.
Spetsnaz special forces and a large number of elite paratroopers are among the infantry units now massing at the Ukraine border having been sent from all over Russia.
They also have in their armoury large “psych-warfare” trucks which can blast battle-noises over the frontline to confuse the enemy and even create devastating diversions.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainian troops – including reservists- have been called up to the border and US advisers are believed to be “in country,” according to sources.
It comes just months after the Daily Mirror witnessed UK paratroopers practising their biggest para-drop in decades alongside Ukrainian allies in a show of force against Russia.
And American intelligence assessments grade the threat of a major Russia-Ukraine flare-up as “potential imminent crisis” as stated by their European operations centre EUCOM.
War has raged along the 1,500 miles-long East Ukraine-Russia border since 2014 after the Euromaidan riots in Kiev and the overnight and lightning Russian invasion of neighbouring Crimea.
In brutal fighting, which has often returned to a trench warfare stand-off around 14,000 people are estimated to have been killed.
The brutal frontline stand-off has been worsened for Ukraine in the east by pro-Russian rebels, aided by Moscow’s GRU military intelligence spies.
Bruce Jones, a Janes Russia expert told the Daily Mirror: “It is difficult to be too alarmist about this situation.
“Russia is giving a lot of evidence that it is pulling out all of the stops in order to be able to wage the widest possible range of hostilities against Ukraine.
“Any such conflict would present a serious challenge to the military capability and resolve of US, EU, NATO which inevitably includes the UK.”
Former commander of British forces in Afghanistan Colonel Richard Kemp said: “We have got to take this situation extremely seriously.
“Of course it might be a deception but we have to assume Russia intends to invade Ukraine.
“However my view is that this would be in a limited way to avoid a wider conflict with America.”
Just a few days ago most defence officials and experts were briefing that Russia’s troop movements were a “bluff” to test US President Joe Biden and to exploit a divided Europe.
They feel Putin believes he has to create a nationalistic stir to regain falling domestic support.
Divisions over Brexit, Covid-19 and terror threats make the time right for Russian to meddle on Europe’s doorstep.
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But the usual calming voices in Whitehall are taking it extremely seriously, describing Russian forces as appearing to be on a war-footing.
He has taken huge advantage of “sub-threshold actions”, just below the justification for war but the level of military hardware and personnel thrown towards the Ukraine border is the biggest since hostilities began in 2014.
This momentum looks very much like Russian forces could launch a major offensive against Ukraine – a stated ally of the UK.
British politicians and defence chiefs have said we stand with Ukraine on this issue yet little was done when Putin annexed Crimea in 2014. “Crippling” sanctions have not stopped Russian special forces and spooks poisoning people, bombing innocents in Syria or continually breaking the rules.
The question is now not “will Putin order a full-scale invasion?” but “why would he not?”
If it is limited in its intent, it is possible he will do it and get away with it, just stopping at the line beyond which the US would go to war. He has done it before.
News – Russia-Ukraine crisis could explode into war in days while UK on ‘high alert’