Britain accused Russia of plotting to install a puppet leader in Kyiv, as Boris Johnson warned European Union leaders against “naivety” over Vladimir Putin’s demands over Ukraine and described the crisis as “gravely dangerous”.
In a highly unusual move, Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, publicly released specially declassified intelligence naming Yevhen Murayev, a former Ukrainian MP, as the Kremlin’s preferred candidate to take over the country following an invasion.
Officials also named four former Ukrainian ministers alleged to be colluding with Russian intelligence officers, including spies involved in planning an attack.
Whitehall was on Saturday night preparing to stand up specialist counter-disinformation cells and officials began work on new sanctions to debilitate the Russian economy if the Kremlin advances.
Britain is understood to be considering a “nuclear” option of backing the suspension of Russia from the Swift international payment scheme.
Mr Johnson believes possible sanctions “cannot exclude” Nordstream II, the controversial gas pipeline between Russia and the EU, and is due to hold calls with G7 leaders to finalise a “sanction coalition” to take targeted measures against oligarchs supporting the Russian president.
Sources close to the Prime Minister said that he “fears some world leaders may not appreciate the deteriorating picture on the Ukrainian border, or fully comprehend the risks posed by a bullying Russia”.
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.”
Both the Foreign and Defence Secretaries are expected to be deployed to Europe next week to bolster support.
Ms Truss said: “The information being released today shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking. Russia must de-escalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy.
“Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs.”
On Saturday, it was confirmed that the Russian defence minister had accepted an invitation to meet Ben Wallace. It follows the delivery by the UK of lethal aid to Ukraine last week in the form of 2,000 anti-tank weapons and 30 troops to provide training.
“The Prime Minister’s view is that the situation in Ukraine is the biggest test to the unity and resolve of the West and the Nato alliance in decades,” said a Number 10 source.
“It would be frankly naive to assume that Russia could be mollified by changes to the European security architecture – the Kremlin’s behaviour has made that consistently clear.
“The UK is working through Nato and in lockstep with the US to enact a policy of dialogue and deterrence, pursuing the diplomatic track but readying a package of sanctions that will pierce the heart of Russia’s economy should that fail.
“He is very clear that countries must be free to choose their own futures and the voice of those in Eastern European must be heard in the negotiations.”
Britain’s ambassadors have been ordered to drive forward a package of “debilitating” economic measures against Russia should the situation escalate.
Writing in The Telegraph, Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Commons foreign affairs select committee, stated: “For the first time in a generation, we’re on the brink of war in Europe. We need to be strong, not to threaten Moscow, but because only strength can stop them.”
Mr Johnson has previously said European leaders would have to choose “between mainlining ever more Russian hydrocarbons in giant new pipelines, and sticking up for Ukraine and championing the cause of peace and stability”.
Mr Murayev, a Russian speaker from a city close to the border, owns a major TV channel and ran for president of Ukraine in 2019 before dropping out of the race to endorse another Russia-friendly candidate.
The Foreign Office said it had “information” that Mr Murayev was being considered by Russia as a candidate to lead Ukraine. It declined to publish the intelligence itself.
On Saturday night, Mr Murayev dismissed the accusations as “stupid and absurd”, pointing out that he has been subject to Russian sanctions himself.
He told The Telegraph: “Unless I’ve missed something, they [Russia] have another candidate and they’re not even hiding it. I’m a patriot of my country.”
Analysts suggested that the Kremlin’s real candidate was Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch who counts Mr Putin as his daughter’s godfather. Mr Medvedchuk could not be contacted for a response.
The other former senior politicians named by the FCDO as having been in contact with Russian Intelligence – also with no accompanying evidence – were Serhiy Arbuzov, Andriy Kluyev, Vladimir Sivkovich and Mykola Azarov, who was Ukraine’s prime minister from 2010 to 2014.
The news came as Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach, the head of the German navy, resigned after being criticised for saying that what Mr Putin really wants is “respect” and that giving it to him would be “low cost”.
The UK is understood to have worked closely with the US on the gathering and declassification of the intelligence that led to Saturday’s disclosure, with the decision approved following a vetting process involving the intelligence services.
Dr Jonathan Eyal, the associate director of strategic research partnerships at the Royal United Services Institute, said that, if accurate, the intelligence on Russia’s plans to install a puppet leader pointed to the “darkest of all scenarios”.
The US Treasury said: “Russia has directed its intelligence services to recruit current and former Ukrainian government officials to prepare to take over the government of Ukraine, and to control Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with an occupying Russian force.”
President Kais Dissolves Top Judicial Watchdog
Tunisia’s president dissolves top judicial watchdog
Tunisian President Kais Saied has dissolved a judicial council that deals with the independence of judges.
Saied – who had dismissed the government and suspended parliament last July – said on Sunday that the Supreme Judicial Council was a “thing of the past”.
sassinations of left-wing activists in 2013.
His decision raises fears about the independence of the judiciary and caps months of his sharp criticism of Tunisia’s judges.
Last month, he revoked all financial privileges for members of the top judicial council, which was formed in 2016 and tasked with ensuring the independence of the judiciary, disciplining judges and granting them professional promotions.
“In this council, positions and appointments are sold according to loyalties. Their place is not the place where they sit now, but where the accused stand,” Saied said in a speech in the interior ministry.
“You cannot imagine the money that certain judges have been able to receive, billions and billions,” he added.
The council’s dissolution comes on the ninth anniversary of the assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid, with parties and organizations, including the powerful UGTT union, preparing to hold demonstrations later in the day to pressure the judiciary to hold those involved in terrorism accountable.
It is expected that Saied’s supporters also will protest in a second demonstration against the Supreme Judicial Council.
“I tell Tunisians to demonstrate freely. It is your right and our right to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council,” Saied said.
Saied’s approval of Sunday’s demonstrations comes even though a government decision to ban all demonstrations remains in effect.
Last month, police fired water cannons and beat protesters with sticks to break up an opposition protest against Saied, whose seizure of broad powers and declared plans to redraw the constitution have cast doubt on Tunisia’s decade-old democratic system and hindered its quest for an international rescue plan for public finances.
The president has initiated an online public consultation before drafting a new constitution that he says will be put to a referendum.
He has not brought major political or civil society players into the process.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Has Apologiseda To Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Australia PM Morrison’s deputy sorry for calling leader a ‘liar’
Morrison said in a statement on Saturday that he accepted Joyce’s apology.
In a leaked message, the deputy prime minister, who heads the junior partner in Morrison’s coalition government, said last year that he had never trusted Morrison.
“He is a hypocrite and a liar from my observations and that is over a long time,” Joyce wrote to a former staffer of Morrison’s Liberal Party who had alleged sexual assault by a fellow staffer.
Joyce’s remarks further shake the political position of Morrison, who must call a federal election by May. His approval ratings have fallen over his handling of an Omicron-driven coronavirus outbreak.
“I want to apologise to the prime minister … I should have never written the text that I did,” Joyce told a news conference.
“My view from the backbench about the prime minister was based on assumption and commentary, not from a one-on-one working relationship.”
Joyce became deputy prime minister in 2021 as the leader of the National Party, not as Morrison’s appointee. Joyce’s party, which has the power to remove him as its leader, did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
Morrison responded, “Relationships change over time. Politicians are human beings too. We all have our frailties and none of us are perfect.”
Joyce’s text message, first reported on Friday night by Nine Newspapers, was sent through a third party to former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins. She had alleged that she was sexually assaulted in Parliament House in March 2019.
The political commotion comes just days after a controversy about an alleged exchange between senior Liberal Party members making derogatory remarks about Morrison.
Opposition Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was “untenable” for Joyce to continue as deputy prime minister.
“I couldn’t care less that the Liberal Party members all don’t like each other,” Albanese said at a briefing. “What I do care about is the consequences of a government that is dysfunctional.”
Trump ‘wrong’ to say 2020 election could be overturned
Trump ‘wrong’ to say 2020 election could be overturned
Former Vice President Mike Pence has directly rebutted Donald Trump’s false claims that he somehow could have overturned the results of the 2020 election in the United States, saying that the former president was simply “wrong”.
In a speech to a gathering of the conservative Federalist Society in Florida on Friday, Pence addressed Trump’s intensifying efforts this week to advance the false narrative that, as vice president, he had the unilateral power to prevent President Joe Biden from taking office.
“President Trump is wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election.”
Pence’s declaration marked his most forceful response yet to Trump, who has spent his post-presidency stoking the lie that the 2020 campaign was stolen from him. And it comes as Pence begins laying the groundwork for a potential run for president in 2024, which could put him in direct competition with his former boss, who is also teasing a comeback run.
The relationship between the two men took on a new dynamic this week as Trump escalated his attacks on Pence.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump said the committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol should instead probe “why Mike Pence did not send back the votes for recertification or approval”. And on Sunday, he blasted Pence, falsely declaring that “he could have overturned the Election!”
Vice presidents play only a ceremonial role in the counting of Electoral College votes, and any attempt to interfere in the count would have represented an extraordinary violation of the law and an assault on the democratic process.
Pence, in his remarks on Friday to the group of lawyers in Lake Buena Vista, described January 6, 2021, as “a dark day in the history of the United States Capitol” and framed his actions that day as in line with his duty as a constitutional conservative.
“The American people must know that we will always keep our oath to the Constitution, even when it would be politically expedient to do otherwise,” he told the group on Friday.
He noted that, under Article II Section One of the Constitution, “elections are conducted at the state level, not by the Congress” and that “the only role of Congress with respect to the Electoral College is to open and count votes submitted and certified by the states. No more, no less.”
He went on to call out those who have insisted that is not the case.
“Frankly there is no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person could choose the American president,” he added. “Under the Constitution, I had no right to change the outcome of our election. And Kamala Harris will have no right to overturn the election when we beat them in 2024.”
The audience applauded Pence’s line about beating the Democrats in the upcoming presidential election, but remained silent when Pence said earlier that “Trump is wrong”.
Pence was inside the Capitol on January 6, presiding over the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election, when a mob of Trump’s supporters violently smashed inside, assaulting police officers and hunting down legislators.
Pence, who released a letter moments before the session got underway that made clear he had no authority to overturn the will of the voters, was rushed to safety as some rioters chanted “Hang Mike Pence!”
The former vice president, in his remarks Friday, acknowledged the lingering anger among many in Trump’s base, even as he said it was time “to focus on the future”.
“The truth is, there’s more at stake than our party or political fortunes,” he said. “Men and women, if we lose faith in the Constitution, we won’t just lose elections — we’ll lose our country.”
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