Ukrainian leader demands evidence on new invasion warnings

An instructor shows a woman how to use a Kalashnikov assault rifle, as members of a far-right Ukrainian group train in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

MOSCOW — Ukraine’s president played down heightened warnings of a possible Russian invasion within days, saying he had yet to see convincing evidence, even as the United States warned on Sunday that more Russian troops were closing in borders of Ukraine and that some airlines had canceled or diverted flights there.

The White House has said President Joe Biden will speak later today with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The Ukrainian leader’s repeated statements calling for calm among his people – as Russian forces encircle Ukraine from three sides in what Russia insists are military exercises – have prompted this weekend end until Zelenskyy questions strident warnings from US officials in recent days that Russia may consider invading as soon as possible such as mid-week.

The United States has collected intelligence that Russia considers Wednesday a target date, according to a U.S. official familiar with the findings. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and only did so on condition of anonymity, did not say how definitive the information was.

“We’re not going to give Russia the opportunity to surprise here, throw anything at Ukraine or the world,” Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday. American warnings.

“We’re going to make sure that we present to the world what we see in the most transparent and clear way possible,” he said.

The United States has largely not made public the evidence it says underpins its most specific warnings about possible Russian planning or timing.

The Russians deployed missile, air, naval and special operations forces, as well as supplies to support an invasion. This week, Russia moved six amphibious assault ships into the Black Sea, increasing its ability to land on the coast.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Sunday that Russia had well over 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, “and in fact, in the past few days, even more.”

Kirby cited “a mosaic of intelligence” the United States had gathered, but gave no details. “We have good intelligence sources and they tell us that, you know, things are becoming a crescendo opportunity for Mr. Putin.”

Zelenskyy’s comments over the weekend indicated his frustration with warnings from Washington as he tries to play down the damage to Ukraine’s economy during the crisis.

“We all understand the risks, we understand there are risks,” he said during a live broadcast. “If you or anyone else has any additional information regarding an all-Russian invasion from the 16th, please pass it on to us.”

In an hour-long call Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden said an invasion of Ukraine would cause “widespread human suffering” and that the West was committed to diplomacy to end the war. crisis but “equally prepared for other scenarios,” the White House said. He offered no suggestion that the call diminished the threat of imminent war in Europe.

Reflecting Western concerns, Dutch airline KLM has canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice, the company said.

The Netherlands’ sensitivity to potential danger in Ukrainian airspace is high after the 2014 downing of a Malaysian airliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur while flying over part of eastern Ukraine. Ukraine held by Russian-backed rebels. All 298 people on board died, including 198 Dutch citizens.

Ukrainian charter airline SkyUp said on Sunday its flight from Madeira, Portugal to Kiev had been diverted to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau after the plane’s Irish lessor said it was banning flights in the country. Ukrainian airspace.

Ukrainian presidential spokesman Serhii Nykyforov told The Associated Press that Ukraine has not closed its airspace.

But Ukraine’s air traffic safety agency Ukraerorukh issued a statement saying the airspace over the Black Sea was a “potential danger zone” and recommended that planes avoid flying over the sea from May 14 to February 19.

The Putin-Biden conversation, following a call between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day, came at a critical time in what has become the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the cold War. US officials believe they have only days to prevent an invasion and massive bloodshed in Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will travel to Kyiv on Monday and Moscow on Tuesday to meet the presidents of those capitals.

While the United States and its NATO allies have no plans to send troops to Ukraine to fight Russia, an invasion and the resulting punitive sanctions could reverberate far beyond the United States. former Soviet republic, affecting energy supplies, world markets and the balance of power in Europe.

In a sign that US officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario, the United States announced its intention to evacuate most of its embassy staff in Kyiv and urged all US citizens to leave Ukraine immediately. Britain has joined other European nations in telling its citizens to leave.

Biden has bolstered the US military presence in Europe to reassure allies on NATO’s eastern flank. The 3,000 additional soldiers ordered in Poland come on top of the 1,700 who are on the way. The US military is also transferring 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, which, like Poland, shares a border with Ukraine.

Russia demands that the West keep former Soviet countries out of NATO. It also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader was ousted from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed more than 14,000 people.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany stopped large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.

“My family has always been prepared, we’ve been putting everything together for about two years now. Honestly, I’m not scared because the war wouldn’t start in a week,” said 21-year-old Yuliia Zaets. at a pro-government rally on Saturday.

Knickmeyer reported from Washington. Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed.

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