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

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

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II, the chief of the armed forces warned yesterday.

The assessment is based on the latest intelligence reports on the activities of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border.

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President Putin’s army, largely in striking distance from Russia’s pro-Western neighbour, is growing by the day.

At least 90,000 troops are already in place, supported by hundreds of heavy artillery weapons and tanks, and reports suggest that figure could reach 175,000 personnel by early next year.

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

Admiral Sir Tony Redkin, who took over the role of Chief of Defense Staff last week, said of the build-up of Russian troops: ‘It is very worrying. The significance of the worst-case scenarios in the context of a complete invasion of Ukraine will be on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II.’

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

Mr Putin, who faced US President Joe Biden on Tuesday in a two-hour virtual summit, had 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 allowed to join the defense 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 provisional 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 allowing Ukraine to take loans from Britain to buy naval ships and heavy weapons.

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

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

In addition to deploying tens of thousands of troops and hardware along the border, Russia is also using cyber warfare and propaganda against Ukraine to influence opinion in areas where conflict may soon erupt.

After their summit, US President Biden confirmed that he would not ground troops to stop the Russian advance.

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

‘I have made it very clear that if he attacks Ukraine there will be dire consequences, economic consequences like he has never seen or never seen.’

Within the past month, a camp with five battalions of Russian soldiers has been painted near Yelna, 150 miles from the Ukrainian border, as US intelligence has warned that Putin now has 50 battalions at Europe's doorstep.

Within the past month, a camp with five battalions of Russian soldiers has been painted near Yelna, 150 miles from the Ukrainian border, as US intelligence has warned that Putin now has 50 battalions at Europe’s doorstep.

Such measures could include dismantling the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Europe.

Ukraine is not part of NATO, so the pledges of collective defense received by the members do not benefit.

However, in light of increasing aggression from Moscow, the coalition may increase its support for the country, which includes more military training and equipment.

The chiefs of staff of 30 NATO member states met in an extraordinary session earlier this week to discuss the Ukraine crisis. Further talks are being planned between Russia and key NATO members to ‘reduce the temperature’.

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