British troops are preparing to “deploy across Europe next week,” said U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson as preparations intensify for armed conflict to protect Ukraine from a Russian incursion.
Johnson is considering the “biggest possible offer to NATO,” according to a statement late Saturday, which could include sending defensive weapons to Estonia and doubling troop levels there, which currently stand at 900. Fast jets, warships and military specialists could also be directed to protect NATO allies.
“This package would send a clear message to the Kremlin,” Johnson said. “We will not tolerate their destabilizing activity, and we will always stand with our NATO allies in the face Russian hostility.”
The moves are intended to tighten pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin as talks continue over the estimated 100,000 Russian troops amassed near Ukraine’s border and Russian demands that NATO pull back in the region.
Johnson is planning to call Putin and travel to the region “early this week.” British foreign and defense secretaries are also planning trips to Moscow to meet with their counterparts.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss — who will head to Ukraine in the coming days — said on Sunday that the British military offering could also include more air support over the Black Sea, and that she is preparing new sanctions legislation to target the Kremlin more directly.
Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips, Truss dismissed concerns about the cost of sanctions to the U.K. economy. “We cannot favor short-term economic interests over the long-term survival of freedom and democracy in Europe — that’s the tough decision all of us have got to make,” she said.
Separately, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will go to Ukraine on February 7 and 8, Le Drian announced. Baerbock echoed the message, citing a commitment to the “inviolability of Ukraine and its people.”
Paris and Berlin are on a parallel four-way negotiating track with Kyiv and Moscow, known as the Normandy format. On Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by telephone with Putin, who complained that the U.S. and NATO are ignoring Russia’s “fundamental concerns” about the alliance’s growth. The Kremlin has also dismissed a Monday’s planned U.N. Security Council meeting on Ukraine as “a clear P.R. stunt.”
The Kremlin is opting to back away from one planned provocation: Russian naval exercises within Ireland’s economic zone slated for next week will be relocated, Russian Ambassador to Ireland Yuriy Filatov said Saturday, as a “gesture of goodwill” to avoid disrupting Irish fishing activity.