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Britain warns Putin not to invade Ukraine as Kremlin is accused of hatching plot to overthrow rulers

Britain yesterday warned Vladimir Putin that he will pay a heavy price if he invades Ukraine – as Kiev claimed that it had uncovered a coup backed by the Kremlin.

UK diplomats issued a direct plea to the Russian president to hold back 90,000 troops stationed on Ukraine's border, sources revealed.

According to official UK sources, Mr Putin is considering either a temporary incursion into eastern Ukraine or a wider invasion of the country.

Yesterday, Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky revealed details of a secret plot to remove him from office next week. 

UK diplomats issued a direct plea to Russian president Vladimir Putin (pictured) to hold back 90,000 troops stationed on Ukraine's border, sources revealed

He said wealthy Russians had been tape-recorded discussing the possible coup.

The Kremlin has denied any involvement. But UK officials believe such a bid to destabilise Ukraine – ahead of possible military action – is 'straight out of Russia's hybrid playbook'.

According to Mr Zelensky, the plot was to be bankrolled by Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov, said to be worth over £5billion. 

But the oligarch said this was 'an absolute lie'. Meanwhile, Nato told Mr Putin that use of force against his neighbour would 'come at a cost'.

However, it would not respond militarily as Ukraine is not a Nato member. Instead, the UK and its allies would impose harsh economic sanctions on Russia.

At a wide-ranging press conference in Kiev, Mr Zelensky said: 'I have received information that a coup d'etat will take place in our country on December 1st to 2nd. 

Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky (pictured) revealed details of a secret plot to remove him from office. He said wealthy Russians were tape-recorded discussing the possible coup

'He [Rinat Akhmetov] is being drawn into this war. I believe he has begun it and that is a big mistake.'

He added: 'We believe that very dangerous rhetoric is coming out of Russia. It is a signal that there could be escalation.' 

However, he said Ukraine's 'powerful' army was ready to take on Russia if it invades.

Ukraine has been strengthening its relationships with western countries. Kiev recently agreed a deal to buy UK-made warships and missiles.

Enhanced military cooperation between Ukraine and Nato is said to have angered Mr Putin and triggered the latest invasion preparations.

Mr Putin recently proclaimed that Russia and Ukraine are 'one country' – even though its neighbour has been independent since 1991.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in 2014 and more than 14,000 people have so far been killed in the ensuing conflict.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss spoke to Ukraine's foreign minister yesterday reiterating Britain's support.