Kyiv, Ukraine – Russia on Sunday canceled previous promises to withdraw tens of thousands of its troops from Ukraine’s northern border, which, according to US leaders, has brought Russia one step closer to a planned invasion of Ukraine. Residents of the Ukrainian capital filled the gold-bearing cathedral to pray for peace.
Russia’s actions extend the fact that, according to her, the military exercises, which were originally supposed to end on Sunday, as a result of which about 30,000 Russian servicemen arrived in Belarus, Ukraine’s neighbor in the north. They are among at least 150,000 Russian troops currently deployed outside Ukraine, along with tanks, fighter jets, artillery and other military equipment.
The continued deployment of Russian troops in Belarus has raised concerns that Russia could send troops to attack the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, a city of about 3 million people in less than three hours.
In what seemed to be the last diplomatic gambit made with the help of French President Emanuel Macron, the White House said US President Joe Biden had “agreed” in principle to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin until he postponed. the beginning of the attack, which is warned by US officials, is becoming increasingly likely.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the administration had made it clear that “we are committed to diplomacy until the invasion begins.” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Europe on Thursday – until Russia deploys its troops to Ukraine in advance.
“We are always ready for diplomacy. We are also ready to impose quick and serious consequences if Russia chooses war, ”Psaki said. “And now Russia seems to be continuing very quickly to prepare for a full-scale attack on Ukraine.”
Life in Kiev outwardly continued as usual for many on a mild winter Sunday, with brunches and church services, before Biden said late last week that Russia had already decided to attack.
Ekaterina Spanchak, who fled the eastern Ukrainian region when it was seized by Russia’s allied separatists, was among the faithful who huddled in the capital’s St. Michael’s Monastery, lit by candles lit by believers to pray for Ukraine’s preservation.
“We all love life, and we are all united by our love of life,” said Spanchak, stopping to gather. “We have to appreciate it every day. So I think everything will be fine. “
“Our joint prayers will help to avoid this tragedy that is coming,” said another believer, who called himself by the name of Oleg.
A U.S. official said Sunday that Biden’s claim that Putin had decided to deploy Russian troops in Ukraine was based on intelligence that Russian front-line commanders had been ordered to begin final preparations for the attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the delicate intelligence.
For weeks, the United States and many European countries have accused Putin of creating the forces he needs to invade Ukraine, a western-oriented democracy seeking to withdraw from Russia’s orbit, and is now trying to create grounds for an invasion.
Western countries are threatening mass sanctions if Putin does.
U.S. officials on Sunday defended their decision to postpone Russia’s planned financial penalties before any invasion, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday urged the West to do more.
“If you pull the trigger on this deterrent, it no longer exists as a deterrent,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby Fox said of the threat of sanctions from Washington.
Russia held nuclear exercises on Saturday, as well as regular exercises in Belarus, as well as ongoing naval exercises off the Black Sea coast.
The announcement that Russia was lifting its promise to withdraw its forces from Belarus came after two days of prolonged shelling along the line of contact between Ukrainian soldiers and allied Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, an area of concern to Ukraine and the West that could become a hotbed. inciting conflict.
Biden convened a National Security Council at the White House to build up Russian troops around Ukraine. White House officials did not release immediate details of their approximately two-hour discussion.
“We are talking about the potential of war in Europe,” US Vice President Kamala Harris said on Sunday at a security conference in Munich, Germany, during which world leaders held urgent consultations on the crisis. “More than 70 years have passed, and in those 70 years … there has been peace and security.”
Zelensky on Sunday asked for a ceasefire on Twitter. Russia has denied plans to invade, but the Kremlin has not responded to Zelensky’s offer to meet with Putin on Saturday.
After talks with Macron, Putin accused Ukraine – wrongly, according to local observers – of escalating shelling along the line of contact, and NATO – for “pumping modern weapons and ammunition” in Ukraine.
Macron, the leader of Europe’s peace efforts with Russia, also spoke separately with Zelensky, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Boris Johnson and Biden.
Blinken deliberately raised the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit in an interview with US television networks on Sunday, seeking to maintain diplomacy, a senior U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. reasoning.
Blinken said Biden was “ready to meet with President Putin at any time in any format if it can help prevent war,” and the US official said Macron had given Putin a proposal for talks – provided Russia did not invade – on his phone. calls with the Russian leader.
However, tensions escalated. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued a recommendation urging Americans to be more careful in Russia as a whole. “Have evacuation plans that do not depend on US government assistance,” it warns.
Immediate concerns have focused on eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting pro-Russian insurgents since 2014 in a conflict that has killed about 14,000 people.
In eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions, separatist leaders ordered full military mobilization and sent more civilians to Russia, which issued about 700,000 passports to rebel-held areas. Statements that Russian citizens are threatened with extinction can be used to justify hostilities.
Officials in the separatist territories said that Ukrainian forces had made several artillery attacks in the past day and that two civilians had been killed during a failed attack on a village near the Russian border. The Ukrainian military said two soldiers were killed in separatist shelling on Saturday.
“If the tension intensifies as much as possible, as it does now, for example, on the line of contact, then any spark, any unplanned incident or any minor planned provocation can lead to irreparable consequences,” said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov. an interview aired on Russian state television on Sunday.
At the forefront, the Ukrainian military said it had been ordered not to respond. Zakhar Leshushun, looking into the distance through a periscope, watched the news all day from the trench where he is near the city of Golden.
“Right now we are not responding to their fire because …” the soldier said before being interrupted by the sound of a shell attack. “Oh! Now they are shooting at us. They are aiming at the command post. “
Heinz reported from Moscow and Miller from Washington. Mstislav Chernov in Golden (Ukraine), Geir Mulson in Berlin, Aamer Madhani in Munich, Ellen Nikmaer, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville in Washington, Ludas Dapkus in Vilnius (Lithuania) and Juras Karmanes in his story .