Putin spitting feathers over UK naval base being built in Sea of Azov: Invasion ‘in weeks’

Moscow Journalist Jake Cordell talks political tactics on Ukraine

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In June last year, the Ministry of Defence announced it had signed an agreement to help build the base to facilitate the development of the Ukrainian navy. The insight comes as there are fears that Russia could launch an offensive on Ukraine any day.

Speaking on the Talking Politics podcast today (Thursday), Shashank Joshi, defence editor of the Economist, commented that what the Russian President “wants more than anything else is to stop Ukraine’s westward drift, which is a much bigger problem than its legal, formal membership of NATO.

He said: “If I’m correct in saying that’s what he wants, then I think we have course to be extremely pessimistic about the steps he’ll take next.”

With respect to the naval base being built on the Sea of Azov, Mr Joshi said: “I’ve heard Sergey Lavrov fume about this in speeches.

“He’s saying, Britain is building a naval base on the Sea of Azov, right on our doorstep.”

Russia is concerned about Western nations including the UK training Ukrainian troops so they are more capable in a combat situation, and Western arms flowing into Ukraine, Mr Joshi said.

The deal signed between the UK and Ukraine last year agreed the joint production of eight fast missile warships, the training of Ukrainian naval personnel, and the sale of two refurbished Sandown-class mine countermeasure vessels.

Jeremy Quin, the UK’s defence procurement minister, said at the time: “The UK and Ukraine have a close defence relationship, and we continue to strengthen this partnership to help deter shared threats.

“I am delighted that British and Ukrainian industry will work together on these projects, which will provide world-leading capabilities and provide opportunities for both our nations to boost our shipbuilding enterprises.”

In a statement, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence described the two nations as “good friends and allies”.

It added that the deal “gives a new impetus to our co-operation in naval industry and will facilitate further development of the Ukrainian Navy.”

It is now estimated that around 100,000 Russian troops are stationed on the border with Ukraine.

British intelligence published in January suggested that Russia was preparing to install a Kremlin-backed leader in Kiev in the event of an invasion.

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Western leaders have spoken publicly about their fears of an imminent Russian invasion, although the Kremlin has always denied it is preparing a military offensive.

Asked about the outlook in the next few months, Mr Joshi forecast: “My assessment now is that I don’t think we’re looking at months at all; I think we’re looking at weeks.

“And I think that come February, there is a high likelihood of a military offensive against Ukraine.

“Moreover, if I’m correct in assessing Russia’s objective – that is to stop Kiev moving closer to the West – a small conflict, one for example that simply intensifies the fighting in the Donbas region, or takes a little bit of land to Crimea – that won’t suffice, because that will just leave you with a more embittered and angry Kiev that will redouble its turn to the West.”

He noted that in a few months the weather would thaw, creating a muddy terrain not suitable for military vehicles.

Mr Joshi added: “[Putin] does have troops [there] from the eastern military district, which is an incredibly worrying sign.

“These are troops from as far away as the North Korea and China borders of Russia. They can’t stay there for months; they’re so far away from their home bases that they would have to be used.”

He said that Putin “worries” Ukraine is “becoming a militarily capable actor that could essentially be a sort of springboard for Western military power against Russia – which feeds into a bigger concern, which is Ukraine developing in a more Western direction politically and economically, and thus serving as a disturbing, democratic, prosperous example of what Russia is not.

“That may be years away, but that’s in the back of Russia’s mind.”

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