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Britain has accused Russia of a shadowy plot to install a pro-Kremlin government in Kyiv as Moscow weighs up a further invasion of Ukraine.

In a highly-unusual move that appeared to be based on specially declassified intelligence, the Foreign Office alleged that a former Ukrainian MP was "being considered as a potential candidate" as a new leader in what would be a significant escalation of the crisis.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is the current leader of Ukraine.

He would like his country to join the European Union and the NATO defence alliance.

What's going on at Russia-Ukraine border?

the claims came as boris johnson cautioned against being "naive" when dealing with president vladimir putin following weeks of dialogue between russia and western allies to try to resolve the crisis over ukraine and wider european security.

Russia's defence minister has accepted an invitation to meet his UK counterpart Ben Wallace amid fears that an invasion of Ukraine is "imminent".

The Foreign Office also said it had information on former Ukrainian politicians who had links with Russian intelligence services, and listed five men.

"Some of these have contact with Russian intelligence officers currently involved in the planning for an attack," the statement added.

As the UK and our partners have said repeatedly, any Russian military incursion into Ukraine would be a massive strategic mistake with severe costs."

The Foreign Office statement named the former Ukrainian MP who it alleged was being considered by Russia as a potential future Ukrainian leader as Yevhen Murayev.

He has reportedly spoken out in the past in support of Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

"we are in communication with the russian government."

The British defence secretary offered earlier this week to hold talks with Sergei Shoigu in London to discuss mutual security concerns, against heightened tensions with the Kremlin over its former Soviet neighbour.

"Given the last defence bilateral between our two countries took place in London in 2013, Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu has offered to meet in Moscow instead.

A senior defence source said : "The defence secretary is glad that Russia has accepted the invitation to talk with his counterpart.

"The Secretary of State has been clear that he will explore all avenues to achieve stability and a resolution to the Ukraine crisis.

It comes after Downing Street warned Russia would be "punished" if the country pushes ahead with any “ destabilising action ” in Ukraine.

Commons Defence Committee chairman Tobias Ellwood warned a Russian incursion could be "imminent" as President Vladimir Putin looked to exploit Western weakness.

"Putin is taking full advantage of a weakened West.

we are looking risk-averse, somewhat timid," he told the bbc radio 4 today programme.

"Putin's ultimatum demanding NATO push back, of course that was dismissed but that's given him the pretext to say that there is an aggressor and that he must act.

"We see these combat-ready troop formations.

He has actually boxed himself into a corner because so much effort has been put into this.

"He also recognises that he will never again be as strong as this to take advantage of the West's weakness.

I suspect that an invasion is now imminent."

US secretary of state Antony Blinken held talks with Russian diplomats in Switzerland on Friday in a bid to avert a conflict on Ukraine's border, where Moscow has amassed an estimated 100,000 troops.

Earlier, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned Mr Putin he must "desist and step back" from war in Ukraine or risk being dragged into a prolonged conflict like the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

"We are prepared to put very severe sanctions in place, we are also working to support Ukraine in terms of defensive capability."

The chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee said that the UK should be ready to give Ukraine financial support.

"If you take hundreds of thousands of people out of the workforce in order to stand guard they will have a real impact on jobs and lives in other sectors.

So, we need to be ready to support the Ukrainian people financially as well, and that may be with loan guarantees and things like that."

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