UK accuses Russia of trying to install pro-Russian leader in Kiev

Moscow has denied such accusations, dismissing British statements as "disinformation"
El presidente ruso Vladimir Putin asiste a una reunión con miembros del partido Rusia Unida con el logo del partido en el fondo en Moscú, Rusia

PHOTO/MIKHAIL VOSKRESSENSKY  -   Russian President Vladimir Putin

Tensions between the West and Russia continue to rise. Following the inconclusive summit between Blinken and Lavrov, the UK has claimed that Russia is trying to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine. Former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev "is being considered as a possible candidate", the Foreign Office said in a statement. Murayev, a lawmaker from 2014 to 2019 and media owner, was an ally of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. He later fled to Russia after the Maidan uprisings. 

According to Reuters, Murayev founded the Opposition Bloc party, a political formation that was formed from fragments of Yanukovich's Party of Regions. Over time, however, he left this party and formed another party with a similar ideology. Murayev considered the Maidan protests to be "a Western-backed coup d'état". He has accused the US of controlling Ukraine's current president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

AFP/ DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS  -   El primer ministro británico Boris Johnson hace una declaración en Downing Street, en el centro de Londres, el 27 de abril de 2020, tras haber sido hospitalizado con la COVID-19
AFP/ DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

London also claims that 'Russian intelligence services maintain links with numerous former Ukrainian politicians' close to the government of former President Yanukovych. The ministry points to 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; Vladimir Sivkovich, former deputy head of Ukraine's National Defence and Security Council (RNBO); and Mykola Azarov, Ukraine's prime minister from 2010 to 2014.

Regarding the information released by the UK government, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, has called on Russia to de-escalate the situation and end its "campaigns of aggression and disinformation". "As the UK and our partners have repeatedly said, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs," Truss stressed. 

Moscow has already responded to London, accusing it of "spreading nonsense". The Russian Foreign Ministry considers the information disseminated by the UK to be "disinformation". It also points out that 'Anglo-Saxon nations seek to escalate tensions' over Ukraine.

AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI  -   El ministro de Relaciones Exteriores de Rusia, Sergei Lavrov, en la Conferencia de Desarme de las Naciones Unidas, el 25 de febrero de 2020 en Ginebra
AFP/FABRICE COFFRINI - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the UN Conference on Disarmament on 25 February 2020 in Geneva.

Relations between London and Moscow deteriorated sharply in June, when the Russian navy attacked the British destroyer HMS Defender in the Black Sea after the vessel sailed up to three kilometres through waters claimed by Russia. In an effort to defuse tensions, which have been heightened by the crisis in Ukraine, Truss is expected to travel to Moscow in February for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov

"The British foreign secretary requested the opportunity to travel to Moscow for talks with Lavrov. Moscow agreed to the visit in February," Russian news agency RIA reported. 

Washington backs Kiev militarily

Amid controversies between Russia and the UK, the US has stepped up military supplies to Ukraine. "The first of several shipments totalling $200 million in security assistance to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, authorised by President (Joe) Biden in December, arrived at Kiev's Borispol airport," the US embassy in the Ukrainian capital said. Washington has also assured that it will continue to send military assistance.

PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -   El presidente de Estados Unidos, Joe Biden
PHOTO/ARCHIVE - US President Joe Biden​

In this context, other countries have followed in the footsteps of the US and are also pledging to supply weapons. "Let's face it, the war in Ukraine continues and it is important to support Ukraine in every way we can so that it can resist the aggressor," said Estonian Defence Minister Kalle Lannet.

The delivery of "security assistance" to Ukraine was among the issues President Joe Biden discussed with his national security team this weekend. "Biden was briefed on the current status of Russian military operations on Ukraine's borders and presented our ongoing efforts to de-escalate the situation through diplomacy," the White House announced.

During the meeting, which was attended by national security adviser Jake Sullivan and adviser Steve Ricchetti, Biden reaffirmed that "if Russia continues to encroach on Ukraine, the United States will impose swift and severe consequences on Moscow with our allies and partners"

REUTERS/TOM BRENNER - El asesor de Seguridad Nacional de la Casa Blanca, Jake Sullivan
REUTERS/TOM BRENNER - White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan

Arms supplies to Ukraine have been deemed 'extremely dangerous' by Russia. As Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted, the shipments 'do nothing to reduce tensions'. Nevertheless, Moscow continues to mass thousands of troops and move weapons close to the Ukrainian border.

Clash between Germany and Ukraine over arms shipments

While several NATO countries have opted to send arms to Ukraine, Berlin opposes sending weapons directly to the territory. "Germany has not supported the export of lethal weapons in recent years," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recalled at a recent press conference. In addition, Berlin has also prevented Estonia from sending German-origin military support to Ukraine. 

The German position has drawn criticism from Kiev, where Berlin is accused of "undermining unity among the country's allies and encouraging Vladimir Putin". The German defence ministry announced that it would set up a field hospital in Ukraine because, as Minister Christine Lambrecht explained, "sending military aid now would not help defuse the crisis". His Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, has welcomed Germany's diplomatic efforts, but also considers that "Germany's current statements are disappointing and run counter to this support and effort".

Canciller Olaf Scholz
PHOTO/FILE - Chancellor Olaf Scholz

Meanwhile, Kay-Achim Schoenbach, head of the German navy, has been forced to resign after controversial statements on Ukraine and Putin. During a visit to New Delhi, Vice Admiral Schoenbach said it was important to have Russia on side against China, saying the Russian president deserved "respect". Schoenbach also described Russia as an "old and important" country, and the idea that Russia wanted to invade part of Ukraine as "an absurdity".

Schoenbach's remarks have provoked criticism and "internal pressure", as the vice-admiral himself said. For these reasons, and to "avoid further damage to the German navy, German forces and, in particular, the Federal Republic of Germany", Schoenbach has stepped down from his position at the helm of the German navy.