President Vladimir Putin has denied US warnings that Russia could invade Ukraine within days by holding televised meetings with his foreign and defense ministers that focused on de-escalating tensions and pursuing efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the security crisis.
The comments were the strongest indications yet that the Kremlin will continue talks to facilitate confrontation in a crisis that raises fears of war in Europe. As recently as Sunday, US officials warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent, although Moscow called it “hysteria”. The West threatened Russia with severe economic sanctions if it attacked.
Speaking to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, Putin said he “agreed” to a proposal that Russia would continue talks with the United States and its allies on the security guarantees demanded by Moscow.
Shortly after, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that some of the massive Russian military exercises currently underway have already ended, while others will end later.
Russia bolstered its forces amassed on Ukraine’s border over the weekend, the Pentagon spokesman said Monday, despite Moscow announcing the end of some military drills.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin “continues to add forces along that border with Ukraine and in Belarus, even just over the weekend it’s well north of 100,000,” the spokesman said. John Kirby at CNN.
Ukraine will persist with NATO goal, says Zelenskiy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday that his country would continue to seek membership in NATO’s transatlantic military alliance despite pressure to give up that aspiration to avoid war with Russia.
Ukraine’s envoy to Britain had suggested Kiev might reconsider its NATO bid, but then backtracked while acknowledging concessions could be offered amid Western warnings of a potentially imminent Russian invasion.
It came as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Ukraine and plans to continue to Moscow for talks with Putin in a last-ditch diplomatic effort.
“We are experiencing a very, very serious threat to peace in Europe,” Scholz tweeted from Kyiv, adding that Germany wanted to see “signals of de-escalation” from Moscow.
Zelenskiy told Scholz that Russia was brandishing its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as a “geopolitical weapon”.
The controversial energy link bypassing Ukraine is a growing irritant in Germany’s relations with Washington and Kyiv. “We have some disagreements in our assessments” of the Russian-German energy link, Zelenskiy said, after talks with Scholz. “We clearly understand that this is a geopolitical weapon.”
With concerns growing over the impending war, the German military said the first of some 350 extra troops it was sending to bolster NATO forces in Lithuania was sent in on Monday.
The Chancellor has stepped up his engagement in the Ukraine crisis over the past week after critics accused him of a lack of leadership and mixed signals in one of Europe’s worst security crises in decades.
“Germany stands by your side,” Scholz said, pointing to the country as Ukraine’s biggest financial backer and announcing a new loan of $170 million.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Europe was “on the edge of a precipice”, adding that “there is still time for President Putin to take a step back”.
More US F-15 fighter jets land in Poland: minister
Eight more American F-15 fighter jets landed in Poland on Monday, the Polish Defense Minister announced. “More US F-15 fighters landed at Lask Airbase today,” Mariusz Blaszczak wrote on Twitter. “Eight planes will join those who came to Poland last week.”
UN chief talks to Lavrov and Kuleba
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Monday.
António Guterres expressed his “serious concern” to the two ministers over the worsening tensions and “welcomed the ongoing diplomatic discussions to defuse these tensions”, said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.