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Putin slams Western 'provocation' as he holds almost 3 hrs of calls with Biden and Macron

Russian officials scoffed at the American claims with a Foreign ministry spokeswoman accusing the White House of “hysteria”.

Western intelligence officials warn a Russian invasion of Ukraine is increasingly imminent.
Western intelligence officials warn a Russian invasion of Ukraine is increasingly imminent.
Image: Andreea Alexandru/AP

Updated Feb 12th 2022, 5:40 PM

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VLADIMIR Putin slammed Western claims of an imminent Moscow invasion of Ukraine as a “provocation” as he began new crisis talks with US President Joe Biden.

Weeks of tensions that have seen Russia surround its western neighbour with more than 100,000 troops intensified after Washington warned that an all-out invasion could begin “any day” and Russia launched its biggest naval drills in years across the Black Sea.

The United States dramatically raised the alarm over Ukraine yesterday, saying a Russian invasion starting with civilians caught under aerial bombing could begin in days and telling US citizens to leave within 48 hours.

In a diplomatic flurry to head off a possible invasion, Putin today spoken with Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron today.

The call with Biden lasted just over an hour. Following the call, the White House confirmed that Biden had spoken to Putin about “Russia’s escalating military buildup on the borders of Ukraine”. 

The White House statement added: 

President Biden was clear that, if Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our Allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia. President Biden reiterated that a further Russian invasion of Ukraine would produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s standing. President Biden was clear with President Putin that while the United States remains prepared to engage in diplomacy, in full coordination with our Allies and partners, we are equally prepared for other scenarios. 

Putin began his afternoon by holding talks with France’s Emmanuel Macron that the French presidency said lasted one hour, 40 minutes.

Macron’s office said “both expressed a desire to continue dialogue” but reported no clear progress.

The Kremlin said Putin told Macron that Western claims of a planned Russian invasion were “provocative speculation” and could spark a conflict in Ukraine.

Russia today added to the ominous tone by pulling some of its diplomatic staff out of Ukraine.

The foreign ministry in Moscow said its decision was prompted by fears of “possible provocations from the Kyiv regime”. 

Earlier today, US officials said that almost all American staff at the Kyiv embassy will be required to leave ahead of a feared Russian invasion.

A small number of officials may remain in Kyiv but the vast majority of the almost 200 Americans at the embassy will be sent out or relocated to Ukraine’s far west, near the Polish border, so the US can retain a diplomatic presence in the country.

The state department would not comment.

The department had earlier ordered families of US embassy staffers in Kyiv to leave, but it had left it to the discretion of nonessential personnel if they wanted to depart.

Ireland’s Department of  Foreign Affairs has said that Irish citizens in Ukraine should “leave immediately by commercial means”. 

Dutch national airline KLM said it was suspending flights to Ukraine until further notice.  

Troops

The Pentagon announced yesterday it is sending another 3,000 combat troops to Poland to join 1,700 who already are assembling there in a demonstration of American commitment to Nato allies worried at the prospect of Russia invading Ukraine.

The additional soldiers will depart their post at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, over the next couple of days and should be in Poland by early next week, according to a defence official, who provided the information under ground rules set by the Pentagon. They are the remaining elements of an infantry brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division.

Their mission will be to train and provide deterrence but not to engage in combat in Ukraine.

That announcement came shortly after Jake Sullivan, US president Joe Biden’s national security adviser, issued a public warning for all American citizens in Ukraine to leave the country as soon as possible.

Sullivan said Russian military action could start with missile and air attacks, followed by a ground offensive.

“Yes, it is an urgent message because we are in an urgent situation,” he told reporters at the White House.

Sullivan would not discuss the intelligence details behind the US assessment and denied a report that American officials believe Putin has made the decision to invade. But he said US officials believe there is “a strong possibility” of an invasion.

“We believe he very well may give the final go order,” Sullivan said. “It may well happen soon.”

In addition to the US troops deploying to Poland, about 1,000 US soldiers based in Germany are shifting to Romania in a similar mission of reassurance to a Nato ally.

Another 300 soldiers, from an 18th Airborne Corps headquarters unit, have arrived in Germany, commanded by Lt Gen Michael E Kurilla.

The American troops are to train with host nation forces, but not to enter Ukraine for any purpose.

The US already has about 80,000 troops throughout Europe at permanent stations and on rotational deployments.

romania-nato-chief US soldiers line up at the Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase, near the Black Sea port city of Constanta, eastern Romania. Source: Andreea Alexandru/AP

Yesterday, the Biden administration escalated dire warnings of a possibly imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying it could happen at any moment, even as emergency diplomatic efforts continued.

As diplomatic options for averting war in Ukraine appeared to narrow, the White House said Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin would discuss the crisis by phone today.

Biden has said the US military will not enter a war in Ukraine, but he has promised severe economic sanctions against Moscow, in concert with international allies.

Timing of possible Russian military action remains a key question.

The US picked up intelligence that Russia is looking at Wednesday as a target date, according to an insider.

The official would not say how definitive the intelligence was, and the White House publicly underlined that the US does not know with certainty whether Mr Putin is committed to invasion.

However, US officials said that Russia’s build-up of offensive air, land and sea firepower near Ukraine has reached the point where it could invade on short notice.

Russian officials scoffed at the American claims. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “The hysteria of the White House is more indicative than ever.

“The Anglo-Saxons need a war. At any cost. Provocations, misinformation and threats are a favourite method of solving their own problems.”

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Russia opened massive military exercises in Belarus on Thursday that are due to run through to next weekend, but says it has no plans to invade Ukraine.

The Russians are insisting that the West should keep Ukraine and other former Soviet countries out of Nato. It also wants Nato to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and to roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.

Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu said “the military-political situation in Europe is growing increasingly tense, and it’s not our fault”.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly leader was driven from office by a popular uprising.

Moscow responded by annexing Crimea 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 helped halt large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued, and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.

Speaking after a meeting of diplomats from the “Quad” nations in Melbourne, Australia, US secretary of state Antony Blinken was downbeat.

He said: “We’ve made every possible effort to engage Russia, to look at the concerns that it’s raised, to share concerns that we have, that European partners and allies have.

“Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border. And as we said before, we’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time.”

With reporting from AFP and Rónán Duffy

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