As talk around the potential invasion of Ukraine reaches a fever pitch, with 130,000 Russian troops gathered on the border and world leaders threatening punitive sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin, experts gave their views to The National on the possibility of peace.

Is Western diplomacy working?

The UK has threatened “severe” sanctions against Russian oligarchs if Ukraine is invaded, a move backed by both Labour and the SNP. But threats have been criticised by one expert who called for a “more conciliatory” approach to dealing with the Eastern superpower.

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Professor Rick Fawn of St Andrews University is an expert on international security and post-Soviet states.

He said there had been “relative unity” in the West’s approach to the crisis.

“The big game in all of this is one of prestige and status,” he said.

“[Putin] has had one-on-ones with the US.

“For him, great power status is extremely important – Russia is not a great power, but it wants to be.”

READ MORE: 'Extend hand of friendship to the Russian people': Blackford urges peace in Ukraine

Dr Paul Arnell, reader on international law at Robert Gordon University, said the West threatening heavy sanctions on Russia “hasn’t helped” the situation.

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He said: “Making threats of sanctions isn’t the most useful way to go.

“One also has to also appreciate the long view of Russia’s long-held view of its concerns on Nato’s eastward expansion.”

The Prime Minister warned on Monday if invasion goes ahead, the world needed to demonstrate the political and economic cost an invasion would have on Russia, including by ending reliance on its gas.

“What I think all European countries need to do now is get Nord Stream out of the bloodstream,” he said.

But the issue could prove contentious in a post-Brexit world, Dr Kirsty Hughes, the director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations, warned.

She said: “Who is Johnson to say what Europe should do on Nord Stream 2?

“Given how bad general relations are between the UK and EU and how unimpressed French and German and other governments are with Johnson, we have much less influence now.

“If you want to have a serious talk with [German Chancellor Olaf] Scholz, you don’t do it through crass megaphone diplomacy.”

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And the EU itself is taking different approaches, according to political scientist Anthony Salamone, the head of European Merchants.

“It’s hard to say the European Union has had a coherent response to the Russian crisis,” he said.

READ MORE: Scottish man living in Ukraine fears ‘chaos’ over warnings of invasion

“If you look at the Baltic states and Poland, they see it as a very serious security threat. France and Germany are taking a very different approach.

“Estonia for example is saying they want to see a coherent, united response.”

Is war inevitable?

The talk from world leaders may give the impression that invasion and a resulting war were inevitable, but some think diplomacy may still win the day.

Johnson has called this week a “window of opportunity” to avoid war.

Prof Fawn thinks war is “unlikely” and called the crisis “a bluff” on the part of Russia, while praising the US approach of declassifying huge amounts of intelligence to “defuse” the possibility of invasion.

War would be a “catastrophic failure” for Putin, in Prof Fawn’s view and would defeat his aims of curbing Nato expansion by confirming non-member countries’ worst fears about being outside the alliance.

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Dr Arnell added: “I would like to think we haven’t passed the point of no return and a Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t inevitable.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson using Ukraine crisis to 'distract from implosion of premiership'

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford on Monday called on the UK to extend the “hand of friendship” to the Russian people.

What is Britain doing?

Brexit meant Britain’s position of influence within Europe vanished – something which has been highlighted by the crisis in Ukraine, Dr Hughes said.

“The UK Government looks embarrassing and to some extent [are] making it up as they go along,” she said.

“Johnson, post-Brexit is seizing any opportunity to pretend Britain is a big global player like it was.

“EU foreign policy is not terribly strong in all this but the UK is not in the room for meetings going on across the EU27 – it’s completely outside.”
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Salamone agreed the Prime Minister could hold ulterior motives in ramping up the rhetoric around the situation in Ukraine.

He said: “The UK is trying to demonstrate its continued importance in the world by being this vocal on the Ukraine crisis.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov used a meeting with the UK Foreign Secretary to “ridicule” Britain, according to Salamone – who warned different attitudes to Russia in Europe could be playing into Putin’s hands.

READ MORE: Why Scotland should not be a cheerleader for an expansionist Nato

“It may be the case Liz Truss is not exceptional at handling difficult international diplomacy but it’s clearly part of the Kremlin strategy to make some European actors look good and others look bad,” he said.

“Different [EU] member states have different views on Russia. It’s not as if the Kremlin is creating those tensions but it seeks to use them to its advantage.”

One benefit from Brexit could be that Britain is able to levy much tougher sanctions on Russia than if it had remained an EU member, according to Salamone.

He pointed out EU sanctions had to be lawful under EU rules – something Britain no longer needs to concern itself with.