KIEV: Kiev on Saturday urged the West to remain “vigilant and firm” in its talks with Russia, as US President Joe Biden announced a small troop deployment to eastern Europe amid fears Moscow could invade Ukraine.
Washington’s top defence officials warned on Friday the Kremlin had massed enough troops and hardware at the border to threaten the whole of Ukraine but called for further diplomatic efforts to avert a “horrific” conflict.
Western leaders are scrambling to defuse the crisis by reaching out to Russian President Vladimir Putin, while also trying to keep the pressure up by vowing unprecedented sanctions should he send in his forces.
As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday urged his Western partners to avoid stirring “panic” over the massive Russian troop buildup, Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed on the need for de-escalation.
According to a Macron aide, Putin told the French leader in a call lasting more than an hour that he had “no offensive plans”.
In Washington, Biden nevertheless said he would soon send a small number of US troops to bolster the Nato presence in eastern Europe as tensions remain heightened.
The United States already has tens of thousands of troops stationed across mostly Western Europe.
France said on Saturday that it was planning to send hundreds of troops to eastern Nato ally Romania as part of a deployment first touted by Macron earlier this month.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday issued a call for the West to remain “vigilant and firm in contacts with the Russian side” in a conversation with French counterpart Yves Le Drian.
The talks underlined the need to “refrain from steps that could fuel anxiety” in Ukrainian society and “undermine the financial stability” of the post-Soviet country, a Ukrainian statement said.
Le Drian is expected to visit Ukraine together with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock on February 7-8 as part of a flurry of diplomacy.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to speak with Putin before heading to the region and add to the chorus of Western leaders urging him to back down.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is due in Kiev on Tuesday to meet the president and prime minister.
Since October, Russia has amassed more than 100,000 combat troops and equipment, as well as support forces, along its frontier with Ukraine and more recently in Belarus, which borders Ukraine on the north.
Western officials say Russia has also mustered more air and sea assets in the region, creating a complex threat like none seen since the Cold War.
Moscow has demanded wide-ranging security guarantees, including that Ukraine never be allowed to join Nato.
The West has rejected Russia’s key demands such as stopping new members join the alliance, but has laid down a raft of areas where it see room to negotiate with the Kremlin.
To Macron, Putin made clear that the written responses from the West to his demands this week had fallen short of Russia’s expectations, the Kremlin said.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2022