WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukraine’s president has called for calm amid heightened warnings of a possible Russian invasion in days, saying he has yet to see convincing evidence about it, even though the United States reported on Sunday that Moscow had positioned more of its troops closer to Ukraine’s borders and some airlines canceled flights to the capital of Kiev.
President Joe Biden spoke for about 50 minutes Sunday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and renewed promises of what the West says will be tough economic sanctions on Moscow and a boost to NATO in the event of “any new Russian aggression” against Ukraine, the White House said. . They agreed to pursue both deterrence and diplomacy in the crisis, he added.
The United States has updated its estimate of the number of Russian forces currently deployed near Ukraine’s borders to more than 130,000, up from the 100,000 the United States has publicly cited in previous weeks. A U.S. official gave the estimate, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s conclusion.
Zelenskyy’s repeated statements downplaying US warnings – as Moscow forces encircle Ukraine from three sides in what the Kremlin insists are military drills – prompted this weekend to his questioning of increasingly strident statements by US officials in recent days that Russia may be planning to invade as early as midweek.
While Zelenskyy has urged against panic which he says could undermine Ukraine’s economy, he and his civilian and military leaders are also preparing defenses, soliciting and receiving a stream of arms from the United States and other members of NATO.
Zelenskyy wore drab olive military clothes during a drill with tanks and helicopters near the border between Ukraine and Russia-annexed Crimea over the weekend. In the nearby town of Kalanchak, some expressed disbelief that Russian President Vladimir Putin would actually send the ready troops along Ukraine’s borders into the country.
“I don’t believe Russia will attack us,” resident Boris Cherepenko said. “I have friends in Sakhalin, in Krasnodar,” he said, citing names of Russian sites. “I do not believe it.”
The United States has collected intelligence that Russia is considering on Wednesday as a target date, according to a U.S. official familiar with the findings. The official, who was also not authorized to speak publicly and only did so on condition of anonymity, did not say how definitive the information was.
“We’re not going to give Russia the opportunity to surprise here, throw anything at Ukraine or the world,” Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday. American warnings.
“We’re going to make sure that we present to the world what we see in the most transparent and clear way possible,” he said.
The United States has largely not made public the evidence it says underpins its most specific warnings about possible Russian planning or timing.
The Russians deployed missile, air, naval and special operations forces, as well as supplies to support an invasion. This week, Russia moved six amphibious assault ships into the Black Sea, increasing its ability to land on the coast.
Zelenskyy’s comments over the weekend indicated frustration with Washington’s warnings.
“We all understand the risks, we understand there are risks,” he said during a live broadcast. “If you or anyone else has any additional information regarding an all-Russian invasion from the 16th, please pass it on to us.”
In an hour-long call Saturday with Putin, Biden said an invasion of Ukraine would cause “widespread human suffering” and that the West was committed to diplomacy to end the crisis but “everything also prepared for other scenarios,” the White House said. He offered no suggestion that the call diminished the threat of imminent war in Europe.
Reflecting Western concerns, Dutch airline KLM has canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice, the company said.
The Netherlands’ sensitivity to potential danger in Ukrainian airspace is high after the 2014 downing of a Malaysian airliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur while flying over part of eastern Ukraine. Ukraine held by Russian-backed rebels. All 298 people on board died, including 198 Dutch citizens.
Ukrainian charter airline SkyUp said on Sunday its flight from Madeira, Portugal to Kiev had been diverted to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau after the plane’s Irish lessor said it was banning flights in the country. Ukrainian airspace.
Ukrainian presidential spokesman Serhii Nykyforov told The Associated Press that Ukraine has not closed its airspace.
But Ukraine’s air traffic safety agency Ukraerorukh issued a statement saying the airspace over the Black Sea was a “potential danger zone” and recommended that planes avoid flying over the sea from May 14 to February 19.
The Putin-Biden conversation, following a call between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day, came at a critical time in what has become the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the cold War. US officials believe they have only days to prevent an invasion and massive bloodshed in Ukraine.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will travel to Kyiv on Monday and Moscow on Tuesday to meet the presidents of those capitals.
While the United States and its NATO allies have no plans to send troops to Ukraine to fight Russia, an invasion and the resulting punitive sanctions could reverberate far beyond the United States. former Soviet republic, affecting energy supplies, world markets and the balance of power in Europe.
Preparing for the worst-case scenario, the United States was withdrawing most of its embassy staff from Kiev and urging all American citizens to leave Ukraine immediately. Britain has joined other European nations in telling its citizens to leave.
Biden has bolstered the US military presence in Europe to reassure allies on NATO’s eastern flank. The 3,000 additional soldiers ordered in Poland come on top of the 1,700 who are on the way. The US military is also transferring 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, which, like Poland, shares a border with Ukraine.
Russia demands that the West keep former Soviet countries out of NATO. It also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader was ousted from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed more than 14,000 people.
A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany stopped large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.
“My family has always been prepared, we have put everything together for a few years now. Honestly, I am not afraid because the war will not start like in a week,” Yuliia Zaets, 21, said on Saturday during a pro-government rally.