War in Ukraine is ‘inevitable’ with a Russian invasion just days away, it was claimed last night.
It came after President Vladimir Putin amassed tens of thousands of troops on the border, with intelligence sources suggesting he may launch a disguised attack on his own forces to justify going into Ukraine.
Tobias Ellwood, Tory chairman of the Commons defence committee, said: ‘I am afraid an invasion by Russian forces is inevitable and imminent and we have allowed this to happen.
Getting ready: Ukrainian soldiers fire an anti-tank missile in a military exercise this week as the country prepares for a possible invasion
‘We had the opportunity to place sufficient military hardware and personnel in Ukraine to make President Putin think twice about invading but we failed to do so.
‘Only President Putin knows what he is going to do next but next week would seem pivotal.
‘He has negotiated himself into a corner and after Nato refused to bow to his threats seemingly only one option remains.’
The UK and US have dismissed Russian demands for a veto on former Soviet republics joining Nato and rebuffed calls for the removal of Western troops from eastern Europe.
Russian defence ministry footage released yesterday showed armoured vehicles and other military hardware being loaded onto trains in what Moscow called an inspection drill to practise deploying over a long distance.
Firepower: Russian troops carry out trials on tank weapons which may be used in Ukraine
US-based military analyst Rob Lee said: ‘This is likely cover for the units being moved towards Ukraine.’
Along with the troops already along the border, more Russian aircraft have been flown to the region in recent days and satellite photos have confirmed the positioning of makeshift military hospitals – usually an indication that a land offensive will be staged.
Yesterday a major cyber attack on Ukrainian government ministries was blamed on Moscow.
Russian hackers were believed to have left chilling messages on websites saying: ‘Ukrainians. Be afraid and expect worse. It’s your past, present and future.’
It followed the break-up of three sets of peace talks this week. The US warned of a possible ‘false flag’ operation – with Russia wrongly claiming Ukraine had attacked its troops as an excuse to invade.
It has long been thought that part of Mr Putin’s strategy is to claim that Ukraine is preparing to attack his forces. The Kremlin can then claim its military action is being conducted in self-defence.
The US said it had intelligence that Russia had already sent saboteurs into Ukraine with the intent of stirring up trouble.
Along with the troops already along the border, more Russian aircraft have been flown to the region in recent days and satellite photos have confirmed the positioning of makeshift military hospitals
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan claimed Russia was ‘laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for an invasion’.
A US official said: ‘We have information that indicates Russia has already pre-positioned a group of operatives to conduct a false flag operation in eastern Ukraine.
‘The operatives are trained in urban warfare and in using explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces.’
A false flag operation is a disguised act with the intention of blaming another party.
Mr Sullivan told reporters Russia used similar tactics in 2014 when it seized Crimea and backed an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Top US diplomat Michael Carpenter warned: ‘The drumbeat of war is sounding loud.’
The Daily Mail can reveal that RAF spy planes have mounted surveillance flights in the region to monitor Russian troop movement and radio communications.
On Thursday, an RC-135 aircraft, packed with sensors and listening devices, flew over Ukraine’s southern coast. A Kremlin spokesman last night dismissed claims of an invasion as ‘unfounded’.