The UK government has taken the unusual step of making a formal statement to warn of a Russian plot to install a pro-Kremlin leader in Ukraine amid growing tensions in the region.
The UK foreign, commonwealth and development office named former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev as a potential Kremlin candidate and once again warned Russia of 'severe costs' of activities to subvert Ukraine.
“The information being released today shines light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin's thinking,” UK foreign secretary Liz Truss said in a statement on Saturday.
“Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy. As the UK and our partners have said repeatedly, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs,” she said.
Russia has reportedly moved 100,000 troops near to its border with Ukraine but denies it is planning an invasion.
The FCDO said it has information that indicates the Russian government is looking to install a pro-Russian leader in Kyiv as it considers whether to “invade and occupy” Ukraine.
The former Ukrainian MP Yevhen Murayev is being considered as a potential candidate, while the Russian intelligence services maintain links with numerous former Ukrainian politicians including: Serhiy Arbuzov, first deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine from 2012-2014, and acting Prime Minister in 2014; Andriy Kluyev, first deputy Prime Minister from 2010-2012 and chief of staff to former Ukrainian President Yanukovich; Vladimir Sivkovich, former deputy head of the Ukrainian national security and defence council; and Mykola Azarov, Prime Minister of Ukraine from 2010-2014.
Some of them have contact with Russian intelligence officers currently involved in the planning for an attack on Ukraine, the FCDO said.
“The UK's position on Ukraine is also clear. We unequivocally support its sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, including Crimea. Ukraine is an independent, sovereign country,” it added.
Several British troops have been in Ukraine since 2015 to help train their armed forces, and the UK has also made a commitment to help rebuild Ukraine's Navy following Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014.
Earlier this week, the UK announced it was sending defence weapons and extra troops for training.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation members, which includes the UK, US and several former Soviet Union states, agree on working together against such a conflict.
Putin, on the other hand, has made a series of demands of the West, including not allowing Ukraine to ever join NATO.