US says more than 130,000 Russian troops are stationed outside Ukraine

Some airlines have canceled or diverted flights to Ukraine amid heightened fears that an invasion by Russia is imminent despite intensive weekend talks between the Kremlin and the West.

In an hour-long call Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Joe Biden said invading Ukraine would cause widespread human suffering and that the West was committed to diplomacy to end the crisis but also prepared for other scenarios, the White House said. He offered no suggestion that the call diminished the threat of imminent war in Europe.

The two presidents spoke a day after Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that US intelligence shows a Russian invasion could begin within days.

Russia denies plans to invade, but has massed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and sent troops to drills in neighboring Belarus. US officials say Russia’s firepower buildup has reached the point where it could invade on short notice.

Dutch airline KLM has canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice, the company announced on Saturday.

Dutch sensitivity to potential danger in Ukrainian airspace is high following the 2014 downing of a Malaysian airliner over an area of ​​eastern Ukraine held by rebel-backed by Russia. All 298 people on board died, including 198 Dutch citizens.

Ukrainian charter airline SkyUp said on Sunday its flight from Madeira, Portugal to Kiev had been diverted to the Moldovan capital Chisinau after the plane’s Irish lessor said it was banning flights in the country. Ukrainian airspace.

Ukrainian presidential spokesman Serhii Nykyforov told The Associated Press that Ukraine has not closed its airspace. A Ministry of Infrastructure statement said: Some carriers are experiencing difficulties related to fluctuations in insurance markets.

The Putin-Biden call, following a call between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day, came at a critical time in what has become the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the cold War. US officials believe they have only days to prevent an invasion and massive bloodshed in Ukraine.

While the United States and its NATO allies have no plans to send troops to Ukraine to fight Russia, an invasion and the resulting punitive sanctions could reverberate far beyond the United States. former Soviet republic, affecting energy supplies, world markets and the balance of power in Europe.

President Biden has been clear with President Putin that while the United States remains ready to engage in diplomacy, in full coordination with our allies and partners, we are also ready for other scenarios, the President said. White House statement.

Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s top foreign policy aide, said while tensions had been escalating for months, in recent days the situation had simply reached the point of absurdity.

He said Biden had discussed possible sanctions that could be imposed on Russia, but that issue was not the focus of a long enough conversation with the Russian leader.

In a sign that US officials are preparing for the worst-case scenario, the United States announced its intention to evacuate most of its embassy staff in the Ukrainian capital and urged all US citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately . Britain has joined other European nations in telling its citizens to leave Ukraine.

Canada has closed its embassy in Kiev and moved its diplomatic staff to a temporary office in Lviv, located in the west of the country, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said on Saturday. Lviv is home to a Ukrainian military base that served as the hub for Canada’s 200-soldier training mission in the former Soviet country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy played down concerns about an invasion, urging the country to remain calm.

I believe that today in the information space there is a lot of information, he said on Saturday.

The timing of possible Russian military action remains a key question.

The United States has collected intelligence that Russia considers Wednesday a target date, according to a U.S. official familiar with the findings. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and only did so on condition of anonymity, did not say how definitive the information was.

New US-Russian tensions surfaced on Saturday when the Defense Ministry summoned the US Embassy’s military attache after he said the Navy had detected a US submarine in Russian waters near the Kuril Islands in the Pacific. . The submarine refused the order to leave, but left after the navy used unspecified appropriate means, the ministry said.

Adding to the sense of crisis, the Pentagon ordered the dispatch of 3,000 additional American troops to Poland to reassure the allies.

In addition to the more than 100,000 ground troops that US officials say Russia has mustered along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, the Russians have deployed missile, air, naval and special operations forces, as well as supplies to support a war.

This week, Russia moved six amphibious assault ships into the Black Sea, increasing its ability to land marines on the coast.

Biden has bolstered the US military presence in Europe to reassure allies on NATO’s eastern flank. The 3,000 additional soldiers ordered in Poland come on top of the 1,700 who are on the way. The US military is also transferring 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, which, like Poland, shares a border with Ukraine.

Russia demands that the West keep former Soviet countries out of NATO. He also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and roll back the alliance’s forces from Eastern Europe, demands flatly rejected by the West.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s pro-Kremlin leader was ousted from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, 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.

(ANI)

Christi C. Elwood