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Ukraine conflict ‘could be biggest since World War II’

Ukraine conflict ‘could be biggest since World War II’: British forces chief issues warning as Vladimir Putin’s troops massing in striking distance of Russia’s neighbour appear to be growing by the day

  • Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger biggest conflict in Europe since WWII 
  • At least 90,000 soldiers, backed by heavy artillery weapons and tanks, in place
  • Putin also sought assurances from Nato that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic


A Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger the biggest conflict in Europe since the Second World War, the head of the armed forces warned yesterday.

The assessment is based on the latest intelligence reports of Russian troop movements on the Ukrainian border.

The number of President Putin’s forces massing in striking distance of Russia’s pro-Western neighbour appears to be growing by the day.

At least 90,000 soldiers, backed by hundreds of heavy artillery weapons and tanks, are already in place and reports suggest this figure could rise to 175,000 personnel by early next year.

Such a formidable force would be required to launch a full-scale of invasion of Ukraine – although how much of the country President Putin may seek to occupy is disputed.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, who took up the role of Chief of the Defence Staff last week, said of the build-up of Russian troops: ‘It is deeply worrying. The significance of the worst scenarios in terms of a full invasion of Ukraine would be on a scale not seen in Europe since World War Two.’

UK defence sources believe President Putin’s likely objective is to invade and occupy eastern Ukraine in 2022 and then seek a diplomatic solution, including the creation of a pro-Russian state there.

Mr Putin, who faced down US president Joe Biden on Tuesday in a two-hour virtual summit, has previously threatened to invade in response to increased Western military support for Ukraine.

Putin has also sought assurances from Nato that Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, would not be permitted to join the defence alliance, but to no avail.

He has described such a scenario as a ‘red line’.

The latest threat of war comes eight years after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and temporary occupation of eastern Ukraine. 

Since then more than 15,000 military personnel and civilians have been killed in fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces. In early November the UK signed a treaty enabling Ukraine to seek loans from Britain to buy naval vessels and heavy weaponry.

The deal includes two minehunter ships, eight heavily armed warships and enhanced technical support.

Another view of the newly-built Russian military camp near Yelna, as US intelligence claims that Putin will be ready to invade Ukraine with an army of 175,000 men within weeks

Another view of the newly-built Russian military camp near Yelna, as US intelligence claims that Putin will be ready to invade Ukraine with an army of 175,000 men within weeks

In addition to positioning tens of thousands of troops and hardware on the border, Russia is also using cyber warfare and disinformation against Ukraine to influence opinions in areas where conflict may soon take place.

After their summit US President Biden confirmed he would not be putting troops on the ground to block a Russian advance.

He said yesterday: ‘That is not on the table. The idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia is not on the cards right now.

‘I made it very clear if he invades Ukraine there will be severe consequences, economic consequences like none he’s ever seen or ever have been seen.’

A camp containing five battalions of Russian troops is pictured near Yelna, 150 miles from Ukraine's border, within the last month as US intelligence warns Putin now has 50 battalions camped out on Europe's doorstep

A camp containing five battalions of Russian troops is pictured near Yelna, 150 miles from Ukraine’s border, within the last month as US intelligence warns Putin now has 50 battalions camped out on Europe’s doorstep 

Such measures may include scrapping the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe.

Ukraine is not part of Nato, so does not benefit from a pledge of collective defence enjoyed by the members.

However, in light of the increasing aggression from Moscow the alliance may step up its support for the country, including more military training and equipment.

Chiefs of staff from Nato’s 30 member states met in an extraordinary session earlier this week to discuss the Ukraine crisis. Further talks between Russia and key Nato members are being planned in a bid to ‘bring down the temperature’. 

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