Russia's Foreign Ministry on Sunday rejected a British claim that Russia was seeking to replace Ukraine's government with a pro-Moscow administration, and that former Ukrainian lawmaker Yevheniy Murayev was being considered as a potential candidate.
Britain's Foreign Office on Saturday also named several other Ukrainian politicians it said had links with Russian intelligence services, along with Murayev who is the leader of a small pro-Russia party that has no seats in the parliament.
The UK government made the claim based on an intelligence assessment, without providing evidence to back it up. It comes amid high tensions between Moscow and the West over Russia's designs on Ukraine.
“The disinformation spread by the British Foreign Office is more evidence that it is the NATO countries, led by the Anglo-Saxons, who are escalating tensions around Ukraine,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on the Telegram messaging app Sunday. “We call on the British Foreign Office to stop provocative activities, stop spreading nonsense.”
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the information “shines a light on the extent of Russian activity designed to subvert Ukraine, and is an insight into Kremlin thinking”.
Truss urged Russia to “deescalate, end its campaigns of aggression and disinformation, and pursue a path of diplomacy,” and reiterated Britain's view that “any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs”.
Britain has sent anti-tank weapons to Ukraine as part of efforts to bolster its defences against a potential Russian attack.
Amid diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is expected to meet Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu for talks in Moscow. No timing has been given for the meeting, which would be the first UK-Russia bilateral defence talks since 2013.
The US has mounted an aggressive campaign in recent months to unify its European allies against a new Russian invasion of Ukraine. The White House called the UK government assessment “deeply concerning” and said it stands with the duly elected Ukrainian government.
“This kind of plotting is deeply concerning,” National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said. “The Ukrainian people have the sovereign right to determine their own future, and we stand with our democratically-elected partners in Ukraine.”
The assessment came as President Joe Biden spent Saturday at the presidential retreat Camp David outside of Washington huddling with his senior national security team about the Ukraine situation.
A White House official said the discussions included efforts to de-escalate the situation with diplomacy and deterrence measures being coordinated closely with allies and partners, including security assistance to Ukraine.