Even as Russia seemed to intensify preparations for an invasion, including sending soldiers and military hardware closer to its neighbor, the Kremlin and the West hinted at the prospect of a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine situation.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday in a made-for-television meeting with President Vladimir Putin that Russia was willing to continue discussing the security complaints that led to the crisis.
Even as Washington, London, and other allies warned that soldiers may arrive in Ukraine as early as Wednesday, Putin’s remarks appeared to convey a message to the world about his own position and provided some optimism that conflict could be avoided.
The anxieties originate from Russia’s massing of more than 130,000 troops on Ukraine’s northern, southern, and eastern borders. It has also begun large-scale military exercises in Belarus, an ally that shares a border with Ukraine.
Despite the West’s rejection to discuss Russia’s primary demands, Russia denies any ambitions to attack Ukraine, and Lavrov suggested that Moscow should continue additional negotiations.
The negotiations “can’t go on endlessly,” Lavrov said, but he suggested continuing and expanding them at this point, adding that Washington has volunteered to consider missile deployment limits in Europe, military training restrictions, and other confidence-building measures.
Moscow needs assurances that Ukraine and other former Soviet republics would not be admitted to NATO as members. It also wants the alliance to pull back its military from Eastern Europe and stop sending weaponry to Ukraine.
“The chances for discussions are far from being exhausted,” Lavrov added.
Putin expressed concern that the West would try to entice Russia into “endless discussions” and questioned if there is still a possibility for a deal to be reached. Lavrov responded that the US and its allies would not be allowed to block Russia’s main requests.
“If Russia chooses to engage constructively, the door for diplomacy remains open,” White House senior deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. “However, given the actions Russia is taking on the ground in plain sight, we are clear-eyed about the prospects.”
Russian military preparations for an invasion near Ukraine’s borders, according to US authorities. Small groups of Russian ground forces have been moving out of bigger gathering camps for many days, taking up positions closer to the Ukrainian border at what would be departure points if Putin ordered an invasion, according to a US defense official.
The official talked on the condition of anonymity in order to share material that had not been made public. The transfer of the units was initially reported by CBS News.
Maxar Technologies, a commercial satellite photography business that has been monitoring Russia’s buildup, observed increasing Russian military activity in Belarus, Crimea, and western Russia, including helicopters, ground-attack aircraft, and fighter-bomber jets arriving at forward sites. Ground soldiers leaving their garrisons and combat units moving into convoy formation are also seen in the photographs, which were shot during a 48-hour period.
Nonetheless, Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s security and defense council, downplayed the possibility of invasion while warning of the risk of “internal instability” by undefined groups.
“At this time, we do not believe that the Russian Federation would launch a large-scale operation on the 16th or 17th of February,” he told reporters. “We are aware of the dangers that exist on our country’s soil. The problem, however, is completely under control.”
In a show of resistance, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared Wednesday a “day of national unity,” encouraging the country to fly the blue-and-yellow flag and sing the national hymn in the face of “hybrid threats.”
In a video message to the country Monday evening, Zelenskyy stated, “This is not the first challenge the courageous Ukrainian people have faced.” “We’re in a good mood.” We’re a formidable force. “We’re in this together.”
Regardless, the country is ready. Residents of Kyiv got letters from the mayor asking them to “defend your city,” and signs marking the nearest bomb shelter emerged in apartment complexes. According to the mayor, the capital boasts around 4,500 such locations, including subterranean parking garages, subway stations, and basements.
Dr. Tamara Ugrich said she packed an emergency luggage and stocked up on cereals and canned food.
“I don’t believe in war,” she added, “but the tension on TV is increasing every day, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remain calm.” “The more we’re encouraged not to worry, the more frightened we are.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz planned to fly to Moscow on Tuesday for meetings with Putin in a last-ditch diplomatic push.
One such off-ramp arose this week. Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, suggested that if Ukraine avoided conflict with Russia, it may reconsider its NATO bid, which is enshrined into its constitution.
Prystaiko later seemed to shy away from the suggestion, but the fact that it was brought up at all implies that it is being considered behind closed doors.
Karmanau contributed to this story from Kyiv, Ukraine. This article was contributed to by Associated Press reporters Angela Charlton and Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Robert Burns in Washington.