A glimmer of hope: the Kremlin sees a diplomatic path to Ukraine

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin signaled on Monday that it was ready to continue discussing with the West the security grievances that led to the current crisis in Ukraine, raising hopes that Russia would not invade its beleaguered neighbor. here a few days as American and European allies grow in fear.

Questions remain, however, about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions. And countries evacuate diplomats and on high alert for possible impending war amid the worst East-West tensions since the Cold War.

On a final diplomatic trip, the German Chancellor said there was “no reasonable reason” for the buildup of more than 130,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s northern, southern and eastern borders. is, and he called for more dialogue. The British Prime Minister said Europe was “on the edge of a precipice” – but added: “there is still time for President Putin to take a step back”.

Despite warnings from Washington, London and elsewhere that Russian troops could move into Ukraine as early as Wednesday, Monday’s meeting between Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested otherwise.

During the session with Putin, Lavrov argued that Moscow should hold more talks with the United States and its allies despite their refusal to consider Russia’s key security demands.

Moscow, which denies plans to invade Ukraine, wants Western guarantees that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to become members. He also wants the alliance to halt arms deployments in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.

The talks “cannot go on forever, but I would suggest continuing and expanding them at this stage,” Lavrov said, noting that Washington has offered to hold a dialogue on the limits of missile deployments in Europe, the restrictions on military exercises and other confidence-building measures. -construction measures. Lavrov said the possibilities for talks “are far from exhausted”.

His comments, in an orchestrated appearance for television cameras, seemed intended to send a message to the world about Putin’s own position: that hopes for a diplomatic solution are not yet dead.

Putin noted that the West might try to drag Russia into “endless talks” and wondered if there was still a chance of reaching an agreement. Lavrov replied that his ministry would not allow the United States and its allies to block major Russian demands.

In a phone call on Sunday, US President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy agreed to continue promoting both deterrence and diplomacy. Zelenskyy’s office also quoted him as suggesting that a quick visit from Biden would help — a possibility that was not mentioned in the White House call summary. Such a visit would be unlikely as the United States now operates with skeleton diplomatic staff in Kyiv.

The head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, downplayed the threat of invasion, but warned of the risk of “internal destabilization” by unspecified forces.

“Today we don’t believe that a full-scale offensive by the Russian Federation could take place on (February) 16 or 17,” he told reporters after meeting lawmakers. “We are aware of the risks that exist on the territory of our country. But the situation is absolutely under control.

As if to show defiance, Zelenskyy said Wednesday would be a “day of national unity”, calling on the country to display the blue and yellow flags and sing the national anthem in the face of “hybrid threats”.

“Our country today is stronger than ever. This is not the first threat that the strong Ukrainian people are facing,” Zelenskyy said Monday evening in a video address to the nation. “We are calm. strong. We are together. A great nation in a great country.

The country is nevertheless preparing. Kyiv residents received letters from the mayor urging them to “defend your city” and signs appeared in apartment buildings pointing to the nearest air-raid shelter. The mayor says the capital has around 4,500 such sites, including underground car parks, metro stations and basements.

Dr. Tamara Ugrich said she stocked up on cereals and canned goods and packed an emergency suitcase.

“I don’t believe in war, but on TV the tension is rising every day and it’s getting harder and harder to keep calm. The more we are told not to panic, the more nervous people get,” she said.

Others took the advice of Ukrainian leaders not to panic. Street music flooded Maidan’s central square on Sunday evening and the crowds danced. “I feel calm. You should always be ready for anything, and then you will have nothing to fear,” said Alona Buznitskaya, a model.

On the front line of Ukraine’s long-running conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the east, Ukrainian soldiers said shelling from the rebel-held area had increased over the past three days. But they said they were used to it and weren’t worried about an imminent incursion.

In what could be a crucial week for Europe’s securityGerman Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Ukraine on Monday before heading to Moscow for talks with Putin on a high-stakes diplomatic foray.

After meeting Zelenskyy, Scholz urged Russia to show signs of de-escalation and reiterated unspecified threats to Russia’s financial situation if it invaded.

“There is no valid reason for such a military deployment,” Scholz said. “No one should doubt the determination and readiness of the EU, NATO, Germany and the United States” in the event of a military offensive.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke with Lavrov and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba, stressing that “there is no alternative to diplomacy”.

NATO countries have also strengthened their forces in Eastern Europe. The German army said the first of 350 additional soldiers it was sending to reinforce NATO forces in Lithuania was sent on Monday. The United States said it would close its embassy in Ukraine and move all remaining staff to a town near the Polish border. Lithuania has also moved families of diplomats and some non-essential diplomatic workers out of the country.

“It’s a big mistake that some embassies moved to western Ukraine,” Zelenskyy said. “It’s their decision, but ‘Western Ukraine’ doesn’t exist. This is United Ukraine. If something happens, God forbid, it (the escalation) will be everywhere.

The United States and its NATO allies have repeatedly warned that Russia will pay a high price for any invasion, but they have sometimes struggled to present a united front. Scholz’s government, in particular, has been criticized for refusing to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine or specify the sanctions it supports, raising questions about Berlin’s resolve. No new details emerged from his visit to Kyiv.

So far, NATO warnings seem to have had little effect: Russia has only reinforced troops and weapons in the region and launched massive exercises in its ally Belarus, which is also neighbor of Ukraine. The West fears the drills, which run until Sunday, could be used by Moscow as cover for an invasion from the north.

Russia has repeatedly dismissed concerns, saying it has the right to deploy forces on its territory.

A possible way out emerged this week: Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, raised the possibility that Ukraine would suspend its NATO bid – a goal enshrined in its constitution – if it avoided the war with Russia.

“We could – especially be threatened like this, blackmailed and pressured into doing it,” Prystaiko told BBC Radio 5.

On Monday, Prystaiko seemed to walk away from that. Some lawmakers have called for Prystaiko’s removal – but the fact the idea has been raised suggests it is being discussed behind closed doors.

Pressed on Monday on Ukraine’s ambitions within NATO, the Ukrainian president remained vague, calling them a “dream”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would welcome such a move.

Meanwhile, a meeting will be held on Tuesday by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Russian deployments. But it’s unclear whether that could defuse tensions.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader was ousted in a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and supporting separatists in the east, 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.

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Karmanau reported from Kiev, Ukraine. Angela Charlton in Paris, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed.

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