Intelligence indicates "something catastrophic" lies ahead as threats of a Russian invasion of Ukraine continue, a minister has warned.
Armed Forces minister James Heappey told ITV News: "What I see… is intelligence that suggests that we are on the brink of something quite catastrophic in Ukraine – and that will have national security and economic consequences for the UK."
He had said earlier on Wednesday it is not “remotely realistic” that British troops would engage in combat with the Russian military, but he added the Ukrainians are “ready to fight for every inch of their country”.
Tens of thousands of people could die if Russia launches into an “extraordinarily stupid” conflict with Ukraine, he said.
Mr Heappey told Times Radio that the UK had sent light anti-tank missiles to the country in a show of support, and photographs and video shared online by the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine on Tuesday suggested these have been received.
But Mr Heappey warned: “What stands in front of us, what could be weeks away, is the first peer-on-peer, industrialised, digitised, top-tier army against top-tier army war that’s been on this continent for generations. Tens of thousands of people could die.
“This is not something that people in Moscow should believe to be bloodless. This is not something that the rest of the world should stand by and ignore.
“It’s right that all diplomatic avenues are being exhausted, I just hope that as we’re on the brink, people in Moscow start to reflect that thousands of people are going to die and that is not something that anybody should be remotely relaxed about.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who led the Russian delegation at security talks with the US in Geneva last week, reaffirmed that Moscow has no intentions of invading Ukraine, but said that receiving Western security guarantees is the categoric imperative for Moscow.
The Russian diplomat underlined that Ukraine's increasingly close ties with NATO allies pose a major security challenge to Russia.
He insisted on Wednesday that there can't be any meaningful talks if the West doesn't heed the main Russian requests for the non-expansion of NATO.
It comes as Boris Johnson said the UK is doing “everything possible” to support the people of Ukraine in the face of a Russian “disinformation campaign”.
The prime minister told the Cabinet that Russian President Vladimir Putin “must not be allowed to rewrite the rules” of international relations as tensions continue to mount.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday stressed the importance of US military aid in the current "tough times."
Speaking during a meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Kiev, Zelenskyy said Ukraine needed "help" in quickly modernising its military.
A senior State Department official, meanwhile, told reporters: “We are now at a point where Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine at any time.”
Reports have suggested Russia has massed 100,000 troops with tanks and other heavy weapons near the Ukrainian border in what many observers believe may be preparation for an invasion.