Mr Budanov said that Moscow’s priority was to increase internal pressure on the Ukrainian government through disinformation campaigns, but that it would resort to military incursion if these tactics failed to lead to a change of government in Kyiv.
“They want to make the situation inside the country more and more dangerous and hard and make a situation where we have to change the government,” he said. “If they can’t do that, then military troops will do their job.”
Responding to Mr Budanov’s interview, Artyom Lukin, an international relations scholar at the Far Eastern Federal University in Russia, said: “One gets the impression the Ukrainian leadership and the Kremlin are perfectly aligned at least on one thing: ratcheting up tensions and keeping up a sense of crisis.”
Vladimir Putin ‘playing chess’ with the West
The government of Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president, has angered Russia by censoring media channels owned by Kremlin-linked moguls, and moving to oust them from positions of power within the country.
On a trip to Washington last week, Oleksii Reznikov, the Ukrainian defence minister, warned that Vladimir Putin was “playing chess” with the West and was still considering whether to embark on a full-blown invasion.
Western governments have voiced concern about the build-up of Russian troops on the border, while admitting to uncertainty over whether the Russian president is planning an invasion or whether he is engaged in sabre rattling to deter Kyiv from intensifying its military co-operation with Nato.
“We’re not sure exactly what Mr Putin is up to,” Lloyd Austin, the US defence secretary, admitted on Wednesday.
The UK signed an arms deal with Kyiv this month in which it committed to the sale of 10 naval vessels and new missile systems in order to counter the threat from Moscow.
Boris Johnson has warned that it would be a “tragic, tragic mistake for the Kremlin to think there was anything to be gained by military adventurism” in Ukraine.