US President Joe Biden warned late Thursday that more Russian troops would head for the border with Ukraine, indicating an invasion could begin within days.
The warning came after NATO allies expressed concern that Moscow was looking for a pretext for war, with some 150,000 Russian troops stationed around the border with Ukraine.
About 60% of Russian ground forces are close to the border.
“Every indication we have is that they are ready to enter Ukraine, attack Ukraine,” Biden told reporters at the White House.
Biden said the United States had “reason to believe” that Russia was “engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to enter,” but he did not provide details.
Russia says tanks and jets have been withdrawn
The Kremlin – which has long considered Ukraine part of its sphere of influence – says it has no plans to invade.
However, he sees NATO’s eastward expansion as an existential threat and demands that the alliance promise that it will never allow Ukraine to join.
Russia said on Friday it was withdrawing more tanks and other armored vehicles from areas near the Ukrainian border.
“Another military train carrying personnel and military equipment belonging to units of the Western Military District tank army has returned to its permanent bases in the Nizhny Novgorod region after completing the planned exercises,” the Russian ministry said. Defense in a statement.
Moscow also said 10 Su-24 warplanes were being moved from the annexed Crimean peninsula to airfields in other regions as part of drills.
Germany urges Russia to change course
As Western leaders arrived in Germany for the Munich Security Conference (MSC), German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Moscow needed to show “serious steps towards de-escalation”.
She accused Russia – in its call for NATO to close the door on Kiev – of making demands reminiscent of the Cold War.
“With an unprecedented deployment of troops to the border with Ukraine and the demands of the Cold War, Russia is challenging the fundamental principles of the European peace order,” Baerbock said in a statement.
This year’s MSC is clouded by fears of full-scale war in Ukraine, with a meeting of G7 foreign ministers on the crisis planned on the sidelines. Unlike previous years, Russia did not send a delegation to the MSC.
Before the opening ceremony, Baerbock said: “It is a loss that Russia does not take advantage of this opportunity.”
US Vice President Kamala Harris and Blinken, the top US officials attending this year’s event, arrived in Germany on Thursday evening.
Spain says NATO is not a threat
On Friday, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares also said Russia should start de-escalation and that NATO and the European Union posed no threat to it.
“Neither NATO nor the EU have a hidden agenda or hidden interests or anything that cannot be explained,” Albares told Onda Cero radio station. “War is totally avoidable and unnecessary.”
EU humanitarian aid ‘ready to mobilise’
European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas told a German newspaper Die Welt in comments published on Friday, the EU could expect between 20,000 and more than a million refugees in the event of a military escalation in Ukraine.
He also said that around 20,000 EU citizens are currently in Ukraine. In the event of a dramatic escalation of hostilities, they would likely need assistance to evacuate the country.
The EU is “ready to mobilize significant humanitarian aid and help protect civilians”, he said.
Diplomatic frenzy to continue Blinken-Lavrov meeting
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Thursday evening that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov next week “if there is no new invasion of Ukraine”.
The announcement came hours after Blinken addressed the UN Security Council and warned that US intelligence shows Russian forces are preparing to attack Ukraine in the “coming days”.
Price said the meeting was initiated by the United States “because we believe the only responsible way to resolve this crisis is through diplomacy and dialogue.” US President Joe Biden is also due to speak with NATO allies on Friday to continue coordinating a de-escalation path for Russia.
rc/dj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)