UK officials told to be ready for ‘crisis mode’ on Russia
Officials at the UK Foreign Office have been told to be ready to move into “crisis mode” at very short notice, highlighting the increased concern that Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine could escalate into conflict, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Staff at the department were informed of the request this week, the person said. Triggering it would mean officials and diplomats are redeployed to work on Russia and Ukraine policy and to prioritise the UK response to any further spike in tensions, including deterrence and sanctions.
“This is critical work in shaping and securing our European neighbourhood,” staff were told in a communication.
Some staff are already being shifted to work on contingency planning and strategic communications, the person said.
A spokesperson for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office said the situation in and around Ukraine was a top priority and there were contingency plans in place for any developments.
President Vladimir Putin has denied he currently plans to invade Ukraine, but he is demanding security guarantees from NATO in return that the military alliance says it cannot give.
A “crisis mode” has been invoked in the recent past to deal with emergencies including repatriations related to the Covid-19 outbreak and the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan last year to the response to blasts in Lebanon. The extent of the status is not set in stone and depends on the nature of the emergency.
It is also not an indication the UK government thinks an invasion is imminent or definitely happening, but part of putting precautionary plans in place that would shuffle staff to higher priority areas and allow the FCDO to move quickly if the status is triggered.
James Heappey, a junior defense minister, said in an interview on BBC television on Wednesday that a conflict could come soon.
“If Putin is being briefed in Moscow that this can be bloodless, he’s being lied to,” he said. “And all of us in the West need to be very clear that the route out of this is through diplomacy, caution and cool heads, not the absolute horror that could be just days or weeks away.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told the House of Commons on Monday that Russia’s mass deployment of troops close to the Ukrainian border -- equipped with tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, rocket artillery, as well as short-range ballistic missiles -- was not routine.
Wallace said the UK had sent light, anti-armour, defensive weapon systems to Ukraine, while a small number of British personnel will provide early-stage training for a short period. The aim of that assistance package is to help Ukraine increase its defensive capabilities, he said.
Wallace also said he had invited Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu to London for talks.
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