London accuses Moscow of wanting to install a leader in Ukraine

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain on Saturday accused the Kremlin of seeking to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine, adding that Russian intelligence agents had been in contact with a number of former Ukrainian politicians as part of invasion plans.

Britain’s Foreign Office has given no details to back up the accusations, which come amid a tense backdrop that has seen Russia muster tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s borders.

The minister said he had information that the Russian government was considering former Ukrainian MP Evguni Muraev as a potential candidate.

“We will not allow the Kremlin to plot to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine,” wrote the British Foreign Secretary on Twitter.

“The Kremlin knows that a military incursion into Ukraine would be a serious strategic error and that the United Kingdom and its allies would impose severe sanctions on Russia,” added Liz Truss.

Evguni Mouraev, 45, is a pro-Russian politician who opposes Ukraine’s integration into the West. According to a December poll, he was ranked seventh among the candidates for the 2024 presidential election with 6.3% support.

While mocking Britain’s claims, he on Sunday called for an end to Ukraine’s division between pro-Western and pro-Russian.

“The time of pro-Western, pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine is gone forever,” he said on Facebook. “Ukraine needs new politicians whose policy will be based only on the principles of the national interests of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people.”

British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News on Sunday that there would be “very serious consequences if Russia makes (the) decision to try to invade (Ukraine) but also to install a puppet regime”.

Russia’s foreign minister called London’s claims “disinformation” and accused Britain and NATO of contributing to the “escalation of tensions” over Ukraine.

“We call on the (British) Foreign Secretary to stop his provocations, to stop spreading nonsense (…),” the minister wrote on one of his official Facebook accounts.

The spokeswoman for the National Security Council of the United States, Emily Horne, evoked in a press release a “conspiracy (…) deeply worrying”. “The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine,” she added.

Britain, which this week supplied 2,000 missiles and a team of military trainers to Ukraine, also said it had information that Russian intelligence services had links to “many” former politicians. Ukrainians, including personalities linked to former pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

(Report Michael Holden and Paul Sandle, with William James, Natalia Zinets Kiev and Polina Devitt Moscow; French version Camille Raynaud and Benjamin Mallet)

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