Ukraine on Sunday pushed back at “apocalyptic predictions” over a potential Russian invasion, after officials in the United States sounded dire warnings that Moscow had stepped up its preparations for a major incursion.
US officials said the Kremlin has assembled 110,000 troops along the border with its pro-Western neighbour but intelligence assessments have not determined if President Vladimir Putin has actually decided to invade.
They assess Putin wants all possible options at his disposal: from a limited campaign in the pro-Russian Donbas region of Ukraine to a full-scale invasion.
“Do not believe the apocalyptic predictions. Different capitals have different scenarios, but Ukraine is ready for any development,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Presidency advisor Mykhailo Podolyak insisted that the chances of finding a diplomatic solution to the crisis remained “substantially higher than the threat of further escalation”.
Podolyak said the latest Russian moves were “no surprise” as Moscow has sought to keep up pressure on Kyiv by conducting large-scale troop rotations, manoeuvres and weapon deployments on a regular basis since massing forces at the border last spring.
– European diplomatic push –
French President Emmanuel Macron heads to Moscow Monday and Kyiv Tuesday seeking to de-escalate the crisis and push forward a stalled peace plan for the festering conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
US officials said if Moscow does opt for a full-scale attack, the invading force could take the capital Kyiv and topple Zelensky in a matter of 48 hours.
It could also trigger a refugee flood of one to five million people, mainly into Poland, the officials added.
The move angered Moscow, which has issued demands for NATO to guarantee Ukraine will not enter the alliance and withdraw forces from member states in eastern Europe.
“We have sent forces to Europe to defend NATO territory,” he said.
US intelligence has concluded that Russia is continuing to muster a major military force on its border with Ukraine.
By Friday, there were 80 battalions and 14 more were en route from elsewhere in Russia, US officials said.
Russia has also announced what it calls joint military manoeuvres with Belarus, where it has sent several battalions to the north of Kyiv.
They added that another six amphibious craft were observed leaving apparently on their way to the Black Sea.