Ukraine’s Zelensky calls Putin to meet as tensions rise

Author: Yuvi February 20, 2022

Ukraine's Zelensky calls Putin to meet as tensions rise


Violence in eastern Ukraine has intensified in recent days as Ukraine and the two rebel-held territories accuse each other of escalating tensions.

Violence in eastern Ukraine has intensified in recent days as Ukraine and the two rebel-held territories accuse each other of escalating tensions.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, facing a sharp escalation in violence in and around the region organized by Russian-backed rebels and given intense warnings of an attack on Russia, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday to discuss the crisis. demanded a solution.

“I don’t know what the President of the Russian Federation wants, so I am proposing a meeting,” Mr. Zelensky said at the Munich Security Conference, where he also met US Vice President Kamala Harris. Mr Zelensky said Russia could choose the venue for the talks.

“Ukraine will continue to follow only the diplomatic route to a peaceful solution.”

There was no immediate reaction from the Kremlin.

Mr Zelensky spoke hours after separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine ordered a full military mobilization on Saturday, while Western leaders warned increasingly dire that a Russian offensive on its neighbor appeared imminent.

In new signs of fear that war could begin within days, Germany and Austria asked their citizens to leave Ukraine. German air carrier Lufthansa canceled flights to the capital, Kiev and Odessa, a Black Sea port that could be a key target in an invasion.

NATO’s liaison office in Kiev said it was relocating staff to Brussels and the western Ukrainian city of Lviv. Meanwhile, top Ukrainian military officials were fired upon during a visit to the front of the nearly eight-year-old separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

According to an Associated Press journalist who was on tour, officers fled to a bomb shelter before fleeing the area.

Violence in eastern Ukraine has intensified in recent days as Ukraine and the two rebel-held territories accuse each other of escalating tensions. Russia said on Saturday that at least two shells fired from a government part of eastern Ukraine landed across the border, but Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba dismissed that claim as “a fake statement”.

Sporadic violence has occurred for years along the line separating Ukraine’s military from the Russian-backed rebels, but recent shelling and bombing could trigger a full-scale war.

The United States and several European countries have accused for months that Russia, which has moved some 150,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, is trying to make up excuses to invade.

“They are tied to each other and are now ready to attack,” US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Lithuania on Saturday.

Ms Harris began her meeting with Zelensky by saying that the world was at “a defining moment in history”.

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pose for photographs before a meeting during the Munich Security Conference in Munich on February 19, 2022. , photo credit: AP

Earlier on Saturday, Denis Pushilin, the head of the pro-Russian separatist government in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, cited an “immediate threat of aggression” from Ukrainian forces in his announcement. Ukrainian officials have denied plans to forcibly occupy areas controlled by the rebels.

“I appeal to all men in the republic who can take up arms to protect their families, their children, wives, mothers,” said Mr. Pushilin. “Together we will achieve the coveted victory we all need.”

A similar statement was made by his counterpart in the Luhansk region. On Friday, rebels began evacuating civilians into Russia with an announcement that appears to be part of their and Moscow’s efforts to portray Ukraine as the aggressor.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock said the evacuation order could be a tactic to provide the spark for a wider attack.

“To say this very clearly, Ukraine did not provide any grounds for the evacuation that was ordered yesterday,” she said. “Those are facts on the ground. We must not allow the alleged causes of war to be created out of hot air.”

US President Joe Biden said late Friday that based on the latest US intelligence, he was now “convinced” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and attack the capital.

“As of this moment, I believe he has made the decision,” Biden said. “We have reason to believe that.” He reiterated that the attack could happen in the “coming days”.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Saturday that Biden was briefed about Harris’ meetings in Munich and is receiving regular updates on the situation in Ukraine. He said Mr Biden would discuss Ukraine during his meeting with the National Security Council on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Russia conducted a massive nuclear exercise on Saturday. The Kremlin said Mr Putin, who had pledged to defend Russia’s national interests as Western threats encroach, was watching the exercise with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko from the status room.

In particular, the planned exercise involves the Black Sea Fleet based in Crimea. Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.

Underscoring the West’s concerns about an imminent offensive, a US defense official said an estimated 40% to 50% of the ground forces deployed in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border have moved into an attack close to the border.

Other officials have said the change has been in place for about a week, and does not mean Mr Putin has decided to launch an offensive. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal US military assessments.

The official also said that the number of Russian ground units, known as battalion tactical groups, in the border area had increased to 125 from 83 two weeks ago. Each group consists of 750 to 1,000 soldiers.

The lines of communication between Moscow and the West remain open: US and Russian defense chiefs spoke on Friday. French President Emmanuel Macron scheduled a phone call with Mr Putin on Sunday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to meet next week.

Immediate concern focuses on eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting pro-Russian insurgents since 2014, killing some 14,000 people. Violations of the 2015 ceasefire agreement, including shelling and firing along the line of contact, are common.

A car bomb exploded Friday in the center of the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk. Adding to the tension, two explosions rocked the rebel-controlled city of Luhansk early Saturday. No casualties have been reported in the incidents.

Ukraine’s military said Saturday that two of its soldiers were killed in firing by the rebel side.

As of Saturday morning, separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, the industrial heartland of Ukraine known as the Donbass, said thousands of residents of rebel-controlled areas had been taken to Russia.

Russia has issued about 700,000 passports to residents of rebel-held areas. Claims that Russian civilians are being put in danger could be used as a justification for military action.

The head of the Donetsk rebel government, Mr. Pushilin, alleged in a video statement that Ukraine was going to order an imminent attack in the region.

Metadata from two videos posted by separatists shows the files were created two days ago, the AP confirmed. US officials have alleged that the Kremlin’s effort as a pretext for invasion may have included staged, pre-recorded videos.

Authorities in Russia’s Rostov region, which borders eastern Ukraine, declared a state of emergency due to an influx of evacuees. Media reports on Saturday described chaos in some of the camps assigned to accommodate people from eastern Ukraine. Reports said there were long queues of buses and hundreds of people were waiting in the cold for hours without food or bathroom facilities.

Mr Putin ordered the Russian government to offer 10,000 rubles (about ₹9,656) for each withdrawal, which is roughly half the average monthly salary in eastern Ukraine.

20 February, 2022, 5:24 pm

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