Britain claims Vladimir Putin is plotting a puppet regime in Ukraine

‘Western unity is key’ for Prime Minister

Mr Johnson has warned leaders against “naivety” over Mr Putin’s demands to de-escalate the Ukraine crisis, including a ban on the country joining Nato and a limit to the deployment of troops and weapons to the alliance’s eastern flank. The Kremlin currently has about 100,000 troops massed near Ukraine’s borders.

A German admiral who has since resigned was criticised for saying that what Mr Putin – who is demanding a ban on Ukraine joining Nato and a limit to the deployment of troops and weapons to the alliance’s eastern flank – wanted was “respect”.

A Number 10 source said that the Prime Minister regarded the situation as “gravely dangerous”, and was calling on European counterparts to unite with the US in facing down Russian aggression.

“His resolve has hardened since the last call with President Putin in December, but he regards Western unity as key. He’s in close contact with [the Ukrainian president Volodymyr] Zelensky and other Western leaders,” the source said.

They added: “The whole of Whitehall is ramping up preparations – departments and the security services are holding multiple daily co-ordination meetings to try to address the current threat and prepare for any escalation.”

On Saturday, British travellers were advised against all non-essential travel to Ukraine by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), which asked UK nationals to register their presence in the country. Travel to Donetsk oblast, Luhansk oblast and Crimea should be avoided, it said.

The US Department of State is reportedly considering ordering the families of personnel at its embassy in Ukraine to start evacuating as early as next week. It has already told Americans not to travel to the country.

Security experts said that the intelligence, if accurate, indicated the “darkest of all scenarios”, namely a “full decapitation strategy” by Moscow, and described the UK’s decision to publish it as an attempt to discredit the participants.

In a statement a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council said: “This kind of plotting is deeply concerning. The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically elected partners in Ukraine.”

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