US says Russia could create pretext to attack Ukraine

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  • Washington says door to diplomacy remains open
  • Russia calls US invasion warnings ‘hysteria’
  • US pledges to defend ‘every square inch’ of NATO territory
  • US OSCE monitors begin to leave eastern Ukraine
  • German Scholz in Kiev on Monday, Moscow on Tuesday

WASHINGTON/KYIV, Feb 13 (Reuters) – Russia could invade Ukraine at any time and create a surprise pretext for an attack, the United States said on Sunday, reiterating its commitment to defend “every square inch” of Ukraine’s territory. NATO.

Russia has more than 100,000 troops massed near Ukraine, which is not part of the Atlantic military alliance, and Washington – while keeping open diplomatic channels that have so far failed to appease the crisis – repeatedly declared that an invasion was imminent.

Moscow denies any such plans and has accused the West of “hysteria”.

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, on the eve of a trip that will take him to Kyiv on Monday and Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, called on Russia to de-escalate and warned of sanctions in the event of invasion of Moscow.

A German official said Berlin did not expect “concrete results”, but diplomacy was important.

In Washington, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said an invasion could begin “any day.”

“We can’t predict the day perfectly, but we’ve been saying for a while now that we’re in the window,” Sullivan told CNN.

US officials said they could not confirm reports that US intelligence indicated Russia planned to invade on Wednesday.

Sullivan said Washington would continue to share what it learned with the world in order to deprive Moscow of the opportunity to mount a surprise “false flag” operation that could be used as a pretext for an attack.

It would also “defend every square inch of NATO territory…and we think Russia fully understands that message,” Sullivan added in a separate CBS interview.

Biden spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday and they agreed on the importance of continuing diplomacy and deterrence in response to Russia’s military buildup, the White House said after the call.

Zelenskiy’s office said he invited Biden to visit Ukraine soon. The White House declined to comment.

In line with the US assessment that an invasion could happen ‘at any time’, a UK government spokesman said Britain was working on a package of military support and economic aid to Ukraine which will be announced in the coming days. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will travel to Europe later this week to build support to end the standoff with Russia.

Biden told Putin in a phone call on Saturday that the West would respond decisively to any invasion and that such an attack would harm and isolate Moscow.

Servicemen take part in military exercises organized by the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at the Gozhsky training ground in Grodno region, Belarus, February 12, 2022. Leonid Scheglov/BelTA/Handout via REUTERS

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Twitter that Kiev had so far received nearly 1,500 tons of munitions from allies delivered on 17 flights, including about 180 tons from the United States. Read more

Canada’s Defense Ministry said it had temporarily withdrawn its Ukraine-based military personnel to an undisclosed location in Europe. Canada, home to the third-largest Ukrainian population in the world after Ukraine and Russia, has maintained a 200-person training mission in western Ukraine since 2015.

RUSSIAN SECURITY REQUIREMENTS

The Kremlin says Putin told Biden during their call on Saturday that Washington had failed to consider Russia’s key concerns and had received no ‘substantial responses’ on key elements of his demands. in matters of security.

Putin wants guarantees from the United States and NATO, including blocking Ukraine’s entry into NATO, refraining from missile deployments near Russia’s borders and reducing infrastructure NATO military in Europe at 1997 levels.

Washington views many of the proposals as non-starters but has pushed the Kremlin to discuss them jointly with Washington and its European allies.

“The diplomatic path remains open. The way for Moscow to show that it wants to continue down this path is simple,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said after talks with Asian allies on Saturday.

Washington and its European allies and others have reduced or evacuated embassy staff and urged citizens to leave immediately or avoid traveling to Ukraine.

US personnel from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) began driving out of the rebel town of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, a Reuters witness said.

The OSCE is carrying out operations in Ukraine, including a civilian observation mission in the self-proclaimed Russian-backed breakaway republics in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, where a war that began in 2014 has killed more than 14,000 people.

Ukraine said on Sunday it wants talks with Russia and OSCE members within 48 hours to discuss Russia’s military buildup. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow failed to respond after Kiev invoked part of the Vienna Document, a set of security agreements, on Friday to ask Moscow to explain its military activities .

Dutch carrier KLM said it would stop flying to Ukraine and German Lufthansa said it was considering suspending flights.

An adviser to Zelenskiy, Mykhailo Podolyak, said no matter what the airlines chose to do, Kyiv would not shut down its airspace because it would look like “some kind of partial blockade”.

A French presidential official said on Saturday, after President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Putin, that nothing in the Russian leader’s remarks indicated that Moscow was planning an offensive, although Paris remained “extremely vigilant”.

UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has warned against putting too much hope in the talks, telling the Sunday Times of London that there was “a smell of Munich in the air of some in West,” referring to a 1938 pact that failed to halt German expansionism under Adolf Hitler.

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Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Anton Zverev, Lydia Kelly, Andrew MacAskill, David Lawder and Katharine Jackson; Written by Edmund Blair, John Stonestreet and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Frances Kerry, Angus MacSwan and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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