Ukraine’s President: ‘If You Have Information About a Russian Invasion, Please Forward That to Us’
WASHINGTON — Some airlines canceled flights to the Ukrainian capital and troops there unloaded fresh shipments of weapons from NATO members Sunday, as its president sought to project confidence in the face of U.S. warnings of possible invasion within days by a growing number of Russian forces.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke to President Joe Biden for about an hour, insisting that Ukrainians had the country under “safe and reliable protection” against feared attack by a far stronger Russian military, aides said afterward. According to the White House, both sides agreed to push diplomacy and deterrence in order to prevent a Russian military offensive.
Biden’s administration is becoming more vocal about concerns that Russia might stage an incident that will create an excuse for an invasion in Ukraine.
U.S. and European intelligence findings in recent days have sparked worries that Russia may try to target a scheduled Ukrainian military exercise slated for Tuesday in eastern Ukraine to launch such a “false-flag operation,” according to two people familiar with the matter. The two people spoke only because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
American intelligence officers believe that Russia may have considered targeting this military exercise as one possible option for an operation to false-flag. White House stressed they are unsure if Vladimir Putin has decided to inflict an attack.
Moscow’s forces are massing on Ukraine’s north, east and south in what the Kremlin insists are military exercises.
A U.S. official updated the Biden administration’s estimate for how many Russian forces are now staged near Ukraine’s borders to more than 130,000, up from the more than 100,000 the U.S. has cited publicly in previous weeks. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the administration’s conclusions.
Zelenskyy has repeatedly denied the U.S. warnings. He also questioned recent statements made by U.S. officials, indicating that Russia may be in planning to invade within the week.
“We understand all the risks, we understand that there are risks,” he said in a broadcast Saturday. “If you, or anyone else, has additional information regarding a 100% Russian invasion starting on the 16th, please forward that information to us.”
But while Zelenskyy has urged against panic that he fears could undermine Ukraine’s economy, he and his civilian and military leaders also are preparing defenses, soliciting and receiving a flow of arms from the U.S. and other NATO members.
A military cargo aircraft carrying U.S.-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and ammunition from NATO member Lithuania landed Sunday, bolstering the country’s defenses against any attack by air.
Zelenskyy wore military olive drab at a drill with tanks and helicopters near Ukraine’s border with Russian-annexed Crimea this weekend. Some in Kalanchak expressed surprise that Putin had sent his troops to enter the country.
“I don’t believe Russia will attack us,” said resident Boris Cherepenko. “I have friends in Sakhalin, in Krasnodar,” he said, naming Russian regions. “I don’t believe it.”
Many expressed concern in Kyiv that any Russian action would result in any economic or military consequences. One woman, Alona Buznitskaya, speaking on a central street of the capital bearing a few signs declaring, “I love Ukraine,” said she was calm.
“You should always be ready for everything, and then you will have nothing to be afraid of,” she said.
The vast majority of the U.S. evidence it claims is underpinning its specific warnings regarding possible Russian planning and timing has been kept secret.
“We’re not going to give Russia the opportunity to conduct a surprise here, to spring something on Ukraine or the world,” Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday, about the U.S. warnings.
“We are going to make sure that we are laying out for the world what we see as transparently and plainly as we possibly can,” he said.
Russians deployed special operations, missile, air and naval forces as well as supply to support an invasion. Russia moved six amphibious assault boats into the Black Sea to enhance its landing capability on the coast.
Putin has denied any intent to attack Ukraine. Russia demands that NATO keep ex-Soviet countries from joining it. It also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and to roll back alliance forces from Eastern Europe — demands flatly rejected by the West.
Although Biden and Putin talked for over an hour Saturday night, the White House didn’t suggest that their call had diminished the danger of war in Europe.
Reflecting the West’s concerns, Dutch airline KLM has canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice, the company said. SkyUp, a charter Ukrainian airline, stated Sunday that its flight from Madeira (Portugal) to Kyiv had been diverted to the capital of Moldova.
And Ukraine’s air traffic safety agency Ukraerorukh issued a statement declaring the airspace over the Black Sea to be a “zone of potential danger” and recommended that planes avoid flying over the sea Feb. 14-19.
After a conversation between Putin and Macron earlier that day, the Putin-Biden call came at a crucial moment in what is now the most serious security crisis between Russia’s and the West ever since the Cold War. Officials in the United States believe that they only have a few days left to stop an invasion of Ukraine and massive bloodshed.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is flying to Kyiv to meet Zelenskyy on Monday and Moscow on Tuesday for a meeting with Putin
Although the U.S. has stated they will not send military personnel to Ukraine, NATO and NATO also have said that it does not plan to do so. Any invasion by any other country and the associated sanctions could impact energy supplies and affect the balance of power in Europe.
American officials were removing most of their staff from Kyiv’s embassy and asking all citizens to flee Ukraine. Britain supported other European nations by telling their citizens to move.
Biden has bolstered the U.S. military presence in Europe as reassurance to allies on NATO’s eastern flank. On top of the 1,700 troops already there, the 3,000 extra soldiers sent to Poland are now 1.700. A U.S. Army unit is also moving 1,000 troops from Germany into Romania. Romania has a border similar to Poland and Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly leader was driven from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded to the uprising by annexeding Crimea and supporting a separatist movement in Ukraine. The conflict has claimed over 14,000 lives.
France and Germany brokered a 2015 peace agreement that helped to end large-scale fighting. However, regular skirmishes continue and attempts to settle the political issues have been stalled.
Heintz reported out of Moscow. Nomaan Merchant from Washington, Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv and Nebi Qena at Kyiv in Ukraine, as well as Oleksandr Statashevsky (Kalanchak), Ukraine contributed.