Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday presented his country as the “shield of Europe” against the threat of a Russian invasion, as Moscow carried out a new show of force by carrying out test firings of missiles hypersonic, in full Russian-Western crisis.
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“For eight years, Ukraine has been a shield. For eight years, Ukraine has retained one of the largest armies in the world which is massed on our borders and not those” of the EU, launched the Ukrainian leader from the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
Addressing its Western allies, he also called on them to cease any policy of “appeasement” with Moscow, accused by Washington and Kiev of having massed 150,000 soldiers on the eastern Ukrainian borders.
Tensions, which had been going crescendo for two months, are now at their height. Washington says it is convinced of an imminent invasion of Ukraine by Moscow, and armed incidents are increasing between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The separatists, who accuse Kiev of wanting to attack them, announced on Saturday a “general mobilization” of men able to fight, after having ordered the evacuation of civilians to neighboring Russia the day before.
Adding to that, President Vladimir Putin personally oversaw ‘strategic’ drills on Saturday with the firing of ‘hypersonic’ missiles, new weapons the Kremlin chief previously called ‘invincible’ and capable of carrying nuclear charges. .
Vladimir Putin appeared alongside his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko during a meeting by videoconference with his generals coordinating the firing. According to the Kremlin, these were carried out successfully and involved Tu-95 bombers and submarines.
Call for unity
Friday evening, US President Joe Biden said he was “convinced” that Vladimir Putin had decided to invade Ukraine, and that the multiplication of clashes was intended to create a “false justification” to launch an offensive in “the week” , even the days to come.
But he left the door open to dialogue. As long as an invasion hasn’t happened, “diplomacy is always a possibility,” he said.
In this sense, a meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov is scheduled for February 24.
The Kremlin continues to deny any intention to attack neighboring Ukraine, a pro-Western country that the Kremlin wants to bring back into its sphere of influence.
But Moscow conditions de-escalation on “guarantees” for its security, such as the withdrawal of NATO’s military infrastructure from Eastern Europe and the assurance that Ukraine will never join the Atlantic Alliance. , unacceptable demands for Westerners.
From Munich, Volodymyr Zelensky reaffirmed his wish that Kiev enter into NATO, calling for a “clear and achievable” timetable for membership.
He also proposed a meeting with Vladimir Putin, a proposal he had already made to him in 2021, but which had remained a dead letter.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for “unity” among Western allies, while US Vice-President Kamala Harris spoke of the threat of a NATO reinforcement in Eastern Europe in the event of Russian attack and that of “severe and effective” sanctions.
In a sign of growing concerns, Berlin and Paris called on their nationals to leave Ukraine on Saturday, while German airline Lufthansa announced the suspension of flights to the Ukrainian cities of Kiev and Odessa from Monday until the end of the month.
On the front in eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian separatists accused each other on Saturday of new serious ceasefire violations. Kiev announced the death of two of its soldiers during these clashes.
Mortar shells also fell not far from the Ukrainian Interior Minister, Denys Monastyrsky, visiting the front, without causing any casualties, according to AFP correspondents.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said on Saturday that they had seen a “dramatic increase” in ceasefire violations, the highest since July 2020.
Pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces have been clashing since 2014 in a conflict that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
Moscow maintained on Saturday that a Ukrainian shot fell into Russian territory, near the Ukrainian border, without causing any casualties. Information denied by Kiev.
The Russian region of Rostov, bordering Ukraine, has declared a state of emergency to deal with a possible influx of refugees from separatist areas. Nearly 20,000 people have already left these areas, according to pro-Russian local officials.
“We decided to go to the grandmother’s (in Russia) where it’s calm, we had our dose in 2014, we don’t want to wait until the last moment,” Elena Sokela told AFP. , a resident of the separatist “republic” of Donetsk who arrived on the Russian side on Saturday morning with her son.
Washington and Kiev claim that Moscow has about 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, in Russia and Belarus, a figure that rises to 190,000 men when counting separatists in eastern Ukraine.
For its part, Russia has never disclosed the number of its soldiers deployed in the area or participating in the maneuvers underway in neighboring Belarus.