Watch CBS News

War in Ukraine "would be a quagmire," British official says

British official on tough talks with Russia
British official on tough talks with Russia 02:34

A top British official said his country has seen no sign that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to deescalate growing tensions over Ukraine, even as Russia has insisted that it doesn't want a war. James Cleverly, Britain's minister of state for Europe, warned that there will be a "huge loss of life" for both the people of Ukraine and Russia if there is an invasion. 

"Sadly, we are not seeing any of the things that we would want to see. We're not hearing any of the things that we would want to hear," Cleverly told "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell in an exclusive interview on Thursday. 

"We are trying to make sure that if the Russian generals aren't being honest with Vladimir Putin, we're being honest with Vladimir Putin," he said. "If he's getting messages from the frontline that this will be quick and easy, we're giving him a more truthful message that this will be long, drawn out and painful." 

Russia has been building up its forces along the Ukrainian border for weeks, demanding an end to NATO's expansion. The buildup could allow Russia to move quickly to seize Kiev. If Russia does invade, Cleverly said it would be met with "a very strong defense" by the Ukrainian people. 

"This would not be a quick or easy conflict," he said. "For Russia, it would be drawn out, it would be painful, it would be bloody, it would be a quagmire. And the best thing for Russia to do is to deescalate, to move its troops away from the border and engage meaningfully in diplomacy with both European and of our friends across in the United States." 

He added: "It does not need to happen. It would be protracted, it would be painful, it will cause huge loss of life. Not just to Ukrainians, but also to Russian people. We don't want to see that." 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Thursday that this has become the most dangerous moment in the crisis as Russia kicked off 10 days of war games in Belarus. The U.S. government says Russia has more than 100,000 troops stationed around Ukraine's borders. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. and its NATO allies are bolstering their forces in the region and conducting their own military drills. 

As diplomatic talks have failed to yield a breakthrough, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov walked out of a meeting with his British counterpart Liz Truss, claiming she was not listening to him. 

"The fact that Liz got a bit of a frosty reception in Moscow is unsurprising because she was saying things that they don't really want to hear," Cleverly said. 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.