By Yuras Karmanau – Associated Press
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian leaders have sought to reassure the nation that a feared invasion from neighboring Russia is not imminent, even as they acknowledged the threat was real and prepared to accept a shipment of US military equipment on Tuesday to bolster their defenses.
Russia has denied planning an assault, but it has massed around 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks, leading the United States and its NATO allies to rush to prepare for a possible war.
Several rounds of high-stakes diplomacy have yielded no breakthrough, and this week tensions have escalated further. NATO has said it is strengthening its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the United States has ordered 8,500 troops on high alert to possibly deploy to Europe as part of a alliance “response force” if necessary.
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The State Department ordered the families of all US staff at the US Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, and it said non-essential embassy staff could leave. Britain said it was also withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its embassy.
In Ukraine, however, authorities have sought to project calm.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Monday evening that the situation was “under control” and that there was “no reason to panic”.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said as of Monday the Russian armed forces failed to form what he called battle groups, “which would have indicated that tomorrow they would launch an offensive.”
“There are risky scenarios. They are possible and likely in the future,” Reznikov told Ukrainian channel ICTV on Monday. “But to this day… such a threat does not exist.”
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, echoed that sentiment, saying the movement of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border “is not news”.
“As of today, we see no reason to declare a full-scale offensive against our country,” Danilov said on Monday.
Russia has said Western accusations that it was planning an invasion are just a cover for NATO-planned provocations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday again accused the United States of “stirring up tensions” around Ukraine, a former Soviet state with which Russia has been locked in a bitter standoff for nearly eight years.
In 2014, following the ousting of a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country’s industrial heartland to the east. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels has since killed more than 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a peaceful resolution to the conflict have stalled.
In the latest standoff, Russia demanded guarantees from the West that NATO would never allow Ukraine to join and that the alliance would limit other actions, such as stationing troops in the former Soviet bloc countries. Some of them, like any commitment to permanently ban Ukraine, are non-starters for NATO – creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear will end in war.
Putting US-based troops on heightened alert for Europe on Monday suggested dwindling hopes that Russian President Vladimir Putin would back down from what US President Joe Biden himself has called a threat of invade neighboring Ukraine.
As part of a new $200 million security aid to Ukraine from the United States, a shipment including equipment and ammunition is also expected to arrive in Ukraine on Tuesday.
The US moves are being taken in tandem with actions by other NATO member governments to bolster a defensive presence in Eastern Europe. Denmark, for example, is sending a frigate and F-16 fighter jets to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces, and France is ready to send troops to Romania.
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