UK troops expected to return to Ukraine if security conditions are met

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said "it's an expectation" UK troops will return once "conditions are met".

It is expected British Army troops will return to Ukraine but only if security conditions on the ground are met, a minister has told Forces News.

UK soldiers have been training Ukrainian forces in the country since 2015 following the annexation of Crimea but have been pulled out amid fears of a possible Russian invasion after Moscow amassed 130,000 troops along the border with Ukraine.

Speaking to the BFBS Sitrep podcast, Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said it was "more than a hope... it would be the expectation" that British troops would return to Ukraine but that it could not be guaranteed.

Watch: 'No sign of de-escalation' from Russia along Ukrainian border.

"Once the conditions are met for UK troops to be able to return, in a less febrile security atmosphere, we will get them back there as quick as we can."

Mr Heappey said there is currently no change on the ground along the border, despite Russia claiming it has begun removing some of its troops and units away from the area.

"The threat of violence today is exactly the same as it was four days ago, given that nothing has moved away."

Watch: Forces News joined soldiers from 3 Rifles as they trained Ukrainian forces in 2018.

However, he echoed the NATO Secretary General's view that there are "grounds for cautious optimism" – although NATO says the build-up is continuing.

The former Army officer also said it was "far, far too early" to think the crisis is over, "let alone making any judgements about returning British training".

When asked what needs to change for UK troops to return to Ukraine, Mr Heappey said: "The very obvious thing is the Russians turn around and drive away."

He also reiterated that the UK will not be part of any conflict in Ukraine. 

Russia has always denied it is planning to invade Ukraine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that there are "mixed signals" coming out of Russia about the prospect of an invasion – but an "avenue for diplomacy" remains open.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also said he was prepared for further talks with the US and NATO to ease tensions in Eastern Europe.

Watch: The Russian defence ministry released footage on Tuesday claiming to show Russian troops and equipment leaving the Ukraine border area – doubts have been raised over whether this is true.