Ukraine urges calm, saying Russian invasion not imminent

Ukraine's leaders sought Tuesday to reassure the nation that an invasion from neighbouring Russia was not imminent, even as they acknowledged the threat is real and prepared to accept a shipment of American military equipment Tuesday to shore up the country's defences.

Kyiv caught between defusing panic and ensuring it gets enough Western aid: analysts

NATO troops on alert for possible Russian invasion of Ukraine

4 months ago
Duration 2:28
Thousands of NATO troops have been put on heightened alert as tensions between Russia and Ukraine escalate.

Ukraine's leaders sought Tuesday to reassure the nation that an invasion from neighbouring Russia was not imminent, even as they acknowledged the threat is real and prepared to accept a shipment of American military equipment Tuesday to shore up the country's defences.

Russia has denied it is planning an assault, but it has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks and is holding military drills at multiple locations in Russia. That has led the United States and its NATO allies to rush to prepare for a possible war.

U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin "continues to build forces along Ukraine's border," and an attack "would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world."

Several rounds of high-stakes diplomacy have failed to yield any breakthroughs, and tensions escalated further this week. NATO said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the U.S. ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert to potentially deploy to Europe as part of an alliance "response force" if necessary. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said he is prepared to send troops to protect NATO allies in Europe.

"We have no intention of putting American forces or NATO forces in Ukraine," Biden said, noting that there would be serious economic consequences for Putin, including personal sanctions, in the event of an invasion.

In a show of European unity in Berlin, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron called for an easing of the crisis.

"We ... expect clear steps from Russia that will contribute to a de-escalation of the situation," Scholz said.

WATCH | West needs to give Russia reasons not to invade: ex-diplomat: 

'Significant' chance Russia will invade Ukraine, says ex-diplomat

4 months ago
Duration 7:01
Russia has a 'cocktail' of domestic reasons to invade Ukraine, says Leigh Turner, Britain's former ambassador to Ukraine. He says the West needs to give Russia reasons not to invade.

Macron, who said he would talk with President Vladimir Putin by phone Friday, added: "If there is aggression, there will be retaliation and the cost will be very high."

The U.S. and its allies have vowed to hit Russia with sanctions like never before if Moscow sends its military into Ukraine but they have provided few details, saying it's best to keep Putin guessing.

Families of diplomatic staff withdrawn

The Canadian government announced Tuesday it's withdrawing the family members of diplomatic staff stationed in Ukraine amid heightened fears of an invasion.

"The safety and security of Canadians, our personnel and their families at our missions abroad is our top priority," said Global Affairs Canada in a statement.

The U.S. State Department has ordered the families of all American personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, and it said that nonessential embassy staff could leave. Britain said it, too, was withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its embassy.

In Ukraine, however, authorities have sought to project calm in order not to destabilize the situation and avoid panic — and many ordinary people have expressed skepticism that there will be an invasion soon.

People walk past Saint Sophia Cathedral at Sophia Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday. International fears of an imminent Russian military invasion of Ukraine remain high as Russian troops mass along the Russian-Ukrainian border. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Speaking in the second televised speech to the nation in as many days, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged Ukrainians not to panic.

"We are strong enough to keep everything under control and derail any attempts at destabilization," he said.

The decision by the U.S., Britain, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats and dependents from Kyiv "doesn't necessarily signal an inevitable escalation and is part of a complex diplomatic game," he said. "We are working together with our partners as a single team."

Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament that "as of today, there are no grounds to believe" that Russia is preparing to invade imminently, noting that its troops have not formed what he called a battle group that could force its way through the border.

"Don't worry, sleep well," Reznikov said. "No need to have your bags packed."

Reznikov's remarks come on the heels of multiple reassurances from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other officials. On Monday, Zelensky told the nation that the situation was "under control."

In an interview aired late on Monday, however, the defence minister acknowledged that "there are risky scenarios" that "are possible and probable in the future."

'Fomenting tensions'

Russia has said Western accusations that it is planning an invasion are merely a cover for NATO's own planned provocations. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday once again accused the U.S. of "fomenting tensions" around Ukraine, a former Soviet state that Russia has been locked in a bitter tug-of-war with for almost eight years.

Moscow has rejected Western demands to pull its troops back from areas near Ukraine, saying it will deploy and train them wherever necessary on its territory as a response to what it called "hostile" moves by the U.S. and its allies.

Thousands of troops from Russia's Southern and Western Military Districts took part Tuesday in readiness drills in those regions in manoeuvres involving Iskander missiles and dozens of warplanes.

A customer inspects a camouflage backpack in the military surplus shop of Andriy Stovbyha on Monday in Kyiv, Ukraine. Stovbyha says he has seen a sharp increase in the number of customers at his shop since Russian troops began massing at Ukraine's borders in December. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In 2014, following the ouster of a Kremlin-friendly president in Kyiv, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country's eastern industrial heartland. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has since killed over 14,000 combatants and civilians, according to Ukrainian government estimates, and efforts to reach a peaceful settlement have stalled.

In the latest standoff, Russia has demanded guarantees from the West that NATO would never allow Ukraine to join and that the alliance would curtail other actions, such as stationing troops in former Soviet bloc countries. Some of these, like the membership pledge, are non-starters for NATO — creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in war.

Moscow has accused Ukraine of massing troops near rebel-controlled regions to retake them by force — accusations Kyiv has rejected.

Analysts say the Ukrainian government is caught between trying to calm the nation and ensuring it gets sufficient assistance from the West in case an invasion does happen.

"Ukrainian authorities are trying to prevent destabilization and panic inside the country, hence the calming statements saying there is no threat of an imminent Russian invasion," political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko said.

"The Kremlin's plans include undermining the situation inside Ukraine, fomenting hysteria and fear among Ukrainians, and the authorities in Kyiv find it increasingly difficult to contain this snowball."

The crisis didn't stop a large group of people from rallying in front of the parliament in Kyiv, demanding changes to the country's tax regulations and even clashing with police at one point.

Demonstrators scuffle with Ukrainian law enforcement officers during a rally of entrepreneurs and representatives of small businesses demanding government support in front of the parliament building in Kyiv on Tuesday. (Serhii Nuzhnenko/Reuters)

Other Ukrainians are watching warily.

"Of course we fear Russia's aggression and a war, which will lead to the further impoverishment of Ukrainians. But we will be forced to fight and defend ourselves," said Dmytro Ugol, a 46-year-old construction worker in Kyiv.

"I am prepared to fight, but my entire family doesn't want it and lives in tension. Every day, the news scares us more and more."

Heightened alert

Putting the U.S.-based troops on heightened alert for Europe on Monday suggested diminishing hope that Putin will back away from what Biden himself has said looks like a threat to invade Ukraine.

The Pentagon said Tuesday it is still identifying the roughly 8,500 U.S. troops being placed on higher alert for possible deployment to Europe, and said that more could be tapped if needed. The U.S. is still in "active consultation" with allies about the capabilities they might need, said press secretary John Kirby.

As part of a new $200 million US in security assistance directed to Ukraine from the United States, a shipment including equipment and munitions is also expected to arrive Tuesday in Ukraine.

The U.S. moves are being done 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 warplanes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces; and France stands ready to send troops to Romania.

With files from CBC News

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