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Ukrainian president urges calm, insisting Russian invasion not imminent

Russia has denied it is planning an assault, but it has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks.

Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a city park in Kyiv.
Members of Ukraine's Territorial Defense Forces, volunteer military units of the Armed Forces, train in a city park in Kyiv.
Image: PA Images

Updated Jan 25th 2022, 3:06 PM

UKRAINE’S LEADERS HAVE sought to reassure the nation that an invasion by neighbouring Russia is not imminent, even as they acknowledged the threat is real and prepared to accept a shipment of US military equipment to shore up their defences.

Moscow has denied planning an assault, but has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks, leading the US and its Nato allies to prepare for a possible war.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late yesterday that the situation is “under control” and there is “no reason to panic”.

Several rounds of high stakes diplomacy have failed to yield any breakthroughs, and this week tensions escalated further.

Nato said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the US ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert to potentially deploy to Europe as part of an alliance “response force” if necessary.

The State Department has ordered the families of all American personnel at the US Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, and said non-essential embassy staff could leave. The UK is also withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its embassy.

Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said that, as of yesterday, Russia’s armed forces had not formed what he called battle groups, “which would have indicated that tomorrow they would launch an offensive”.

“There are risky scenarios. They’re possible and probable in the future,” he told Ukraine’s ICTV channel yesterday. “But as of today… such a threat doesn’t exist.”

“Don’t worry, sleep well,” he added today. “No need to have your bags packed.”

Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, echoed that sentiment, saying the movement of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border “is not news”.

“As of today, we don’t see any grounds for statements about a full-scale offensive on our country,” he said yesterday.

Russia has said Western accusations that it is planning an invasion are a cover for Nato’s planned provocations.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov today again accused the US of “fomenting tensions” around Ukraine, a former Soviet state which has been locked in a bitter tug-of-war with Russia for almost eight years.

In 2014, following the removal of a Kremlin-friendly president in Ukraine, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country’s industrial heartland in the east.

The fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has since killed more than 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a peaceful settlement have stalled.

In the latest standoff, Russia has demanded guarantees from the West that Nato would never allow Ukraine to join and that the alliance would curtail other actions, such as stationing troops in former Soviet bloc countries.

Some of these, like any pledge to permanently bar Ukraine, are non-starters for Nato, creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in war.

Analysts say the Ukrainian government is caught between trying to calm the nation and ensuring it gets sufficient assistance from the West in case an invasion does happen.

“Ukrainian authorities are trying to prevent destabilisation and panic inside the country, hence the calming statements saying there is no threat of an imminent Russian invasion,” political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said.

“The Kremlin’s plans include undermining the situation inside Ukraine, fomenting hysteria and fear among Ukrainians, and the authorities in Kyiv find it increasingly difficult to contain this snowball,” he added.

A Kyiv International Institute of Sociology poll found about 48% of Ukrainians believe an invasion in the coming months to be a real threat.

Putting the US-based troops on heightened alert for Europe on Monday suggested diminishing hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will back away from what US President Joe Biden has said looks like a threat to invade neighbouring Ukraine.

As part of a new 200 million dollars (£150 million) in security assistance directed to Ukraine from the US, a shipment including equipment and munitions is expected to arrive today.

The US moves come in tandem with actions by other Nato member governments to bolster a defensive presence in eastern Europe.

Denmark is sending a frigate and F-16 warplanes to Lithuania, Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join Nato naval forces, and France stands ready to send troops to Romania.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain is prepared to deploy troops to protect Nato allies in Europe should Russia invade Ukraine, Boris Johnson said, as he warned Vladimir Putin faces “ferocious” Ukrainian resistance.

The Prime Minister also said the UK and its allies stand ready to impose “heavy economic sanctions” on Russia and voiced fears that any invasion would result in “bloodshed comparable to the first war in Chechnya or Bosnia”.

Mr Johnson told the House of Commons: “If Russia pursues this path, many Russian mothers’ sons will not be coming home.

Ireland

The Russian Ambassador to Ireland, meanwhile, has downplayed concerns about planned Russian missile tests in international waters off the Irish coast.

Speaking at a press briefing yesterday, Yuri Filatov said that this is a “non-story” and that there are “no grounds for concern” for Ireland in relation to the exercises.

“It’s a small exercise actually maybe three or four ships, not more. There is nothing really to be disturbed, concerned or anguished about and I have extensively explained that to our Irish colleagues,” he said.

He said these exercises are held on a regular basis in this area off the coast “conducted not only by Russia but by other countries as well”.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said today that the situation is “very serious” and Ireland is co-ordinating its response with its European and United Nations partners.

“There is a real fear that we could see a land war on the continent of Europe and we haven’t seen that for a very long time,” he said.

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Varadkar added that the government does not believe Russia’s plans to hold military exercises off the Irish coast is connected to the situation in Ukraine.

“The Russian exercises off the coast of Cork and Kerry – while not illegal are not welcome – but we don’t believe that they’re connected to the events in Russia and Ukraine. But we certainly would prefer that they were not happening.”

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said yesterday that he will brief his EU counterparts on these planned Russian military exercises.

“That is in international waters but it is also part of the Exclusive Economic Zone of Ireland. And so we don’t have the power to prevent this happening,” he said.

“But certainly, I’ve made it clear to the Russian ambassador in Ireland, that it’s not welcome. This isn’t a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what’s happening with and in Ukraine at the moment. And so I think it’s important that I would brief my colleagues on those intentions.”

Filitov also told reporters that Russia has “no plans” to attack Ukraine or any other country.

He accused the US and Nato countries’ focus “on this invasion scenario” as being an attempt to frame the “really important issue” of European security in a false way.

Additional reporting by Céimin Burke

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