RAF

Johnson visits RAF base as situation at Ukraine-Russia border remains 'very grim'

During the Prime Minister's visit to RAF Waddington, he said an invasion of Ukraine would result in a "bloody and protracted conflict".

Boris Johnson has said the situation along Ukraine's border with Russia remains "very grim" as he met with military personnel during a visit to an RAF base.

The Prime Minister visited RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire – the hub of UK Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance and the main operating base for airborne intelligence aircraft and systems.

He said: "Some of the planes here today are going to be used very shortly over the border in Belarus, in Poland, and elsewhere over Ukraine, to see what's going on and to allow us to have even finer detail evaluation of the military dispositions there."

Mr Johnson also accused Russia of orchestrating "false flag" attacks in Ukraine as a pretext for an invasion.

Western allies fear Russia will carry out or support attacks in Ukraine which it will then falsely blame on the Kyiv government in order to justify an invasion.

He said in an interview: "Today, as I'm sure you've already picked up, a kindergarten was shelled in what we are taking to be, well, we know, was a false flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians, designed to create a pretext, a spurious provocation for Russian action.

"We fear very much that that is the kind of thing we will see more of over the next few days."

Watch: How is open source intelligence being used to verify reports of a Russian de-escalation?

Separatist authorities in the Luhansk region claimed there had been an increase in Ukrainian shelling along the tense line of contact, describing it as a "large-scale provocation" and that they then returned fire.

The Kyiv government disputed the claim, saying separatists had shelled its forces but they did not fire back.

A nursery school building in Stanytsia Luhanska was hit, wounding two civilians, according to the Ukrainian military.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said "the shelling of a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska by pro-Russian forces is a big provocation".

Mr Johnson, who sat in the cockpit of an RAF Typhoon fighter jet during his visit to Waddington, warned Russian President Vladimir Putin would be "mad" to invade Ukraine because it would result in a "bloody and protracted conflict".

PM Boris Johnson gives thumbs up in cockpit of RAF Typhoon at RAF Waddington 170222 CREDIT POOL
The Prime Minister sat in the cockpit of an RAF Typhoon during his visit to RAF Waddington.

However, the Prime Minister said there is "still time for the Putin regime to step back" from what would be a "catastrophe" for the world.

Russia has repeatedly denied it is planning to invade Ukraine, despite massing an estimated 130,000 troops along the border with its neighbour.

Moscow has claimed to be pulling units back to their bases after completing military drills near the border.

But the UK and US dispute this and say thousands more Russian troops have been deployed, along with equipment.

Britain is doubling its troop presence in Estonia in response to the tensions, with extra personnel and hardware being sent to the Baltic nation, as well as other deployments in Europe.