U.S. says Russia ‘clearly’ now has capability to attack as Ukraine complains of Western panic

The United States does not think Russian President Vladimir Putin has reached a decision on whether to attack Ukraine again, but Moscow “clearly now has that capability” to seize important territories from Kyiv, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday.

The Pentagon chief told reporters that Russia has continued to use disinformation channels to manufacture a pretext for a renewed invasion, but he added that Putin can still “do the right thing” by calling off the more than 100,000 troops he has stationed near Ukraine’s borders and by pursuing a diplomatic solution.

Washington “remains committed to helping Ukraine defend itself through security assistance material,” Austin added. Austin said that Washington “remains committed to helping Ukraine defend itself through security assistance material.” )

On Friday, President Biden said he planned to send some U.S. troops to Eastern Europe, describing the number as “not too many.” Biden has ruled out sending forces to Ukraine itself.

The 44-year-old leader faulted the West for waiting to impose more damaging sanctions on Moscow, while also assailing decisions by the United States, Britain and Australia to withdraw some embassy staffers and their families. He also accused Western leaders of creating panic by suggesting an imminent invasion.

U.S. intelligence, relying in part on satellite imagery, has found that Russia is massing forces around Ukraine in support of a potential multi-front incursion. Reuters also reported that Moscow is stocking supplies of blood for troops at the border. This was cited by three unidentified U.S. officials. officials.

In a Facebook post late Friday, the Russian embassy in Washington accused the United States of “pumping the #Kiev regime” nonstop with new weapons and inciting Ukrainian authorities to “military adventures” against the residents of Donbas, where Russia has been backing separatist proxy forces in a war with Ukrainian forces for eight years.

The Russian embassy said the United States was delivering hundreds of tons of military aid to Ukraine “under the slogans that the Russians are desperate to attack a neighboring state.”

“The crazy ‘horror stories’ have never come true,” the Russian embassy wrote.

U.S. officials, however, say Russia is clearly making preparations for a possible new invasion of Ukraine, even if Putin hasn’t decided whether to proceed with the operation. Austin said the number of military personnel the Kremlin has stationed near Ukraine “far and away exceeds what we typically see them do for exercises.”

The U.S. embassy in Kyiv, which has ordered diplomats’ families to leave the country, issued instructions on Saturday for how U.S. citizens could leave Ukraine by land, which would likely be necessary if Russian airstrikes or missile attacks were to close Ukrainian airspace. Although the embassy stated that U.S. citizens can leave Ukraine via land, it noted that they must apply for permission for humanitarian reasons to cross into Poland.

Zelensky said at a news conference Friday that the evidence of an imminent invasion was insufficient, even as he suggested that the troops were part of a Russian “sadomasochism” threat.

“We’re grateful to the United States for its constant support of our sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. But I am Ukraine’s president. You can find me here. I know … deeper details than any president.”

The Ukrainian head of state faces the challenge of deterring Putin and also keeping Western investment flowing into his country as leaders in Washington and London warn of Russian aggression. The Ukrainian economy contracted sharply after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, but gross domestic product grew by 3.5 percent last year. Foreign direct investment also has not recovered to 2014 levels, but World Bank data also shows net inflows rising steadily through 2019.

On Friday, Zelensky tried to paint Ukraine as a reliable business partner — Kyiv has long tried to sell itself to Europe as an attractive investment destination — and urged Western companies to contribute “practical support” to the Ukrainian economy.

“There will be profit in the future. Ukraine is at the forefront of this profit-oriented attitude. You are therefore welcome. Foreign reporters are encouraged to invest in Ukraine now and show their support for the country.

On a Jan. 26 train ride from Kyiv to Kharkiv, in the east of the country, Ukrainians gave voice to their anxiety over a possible conflict with Russia. (Whitney Shefte, James Cornsilk/The Washington Post)

But Ukraine’s economy is dwarfed by that of Russia — which also is a key exporter of energy to Europe — and Putin has tried to use those commercial ties to put pressure on Western leaders. Zelensky told The Washington Post last year that Ukrainian security could be jeopardized once the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which allows Moscow to bypass Kyiv and send natural gas to Europe, is activated.

On Saturday, Russia relented to pressure by Ireland to move Russian navy exercises that Moscow had intended to hold from Feb. 3-8 in waters off the Irish coast that are part of Ireland’s exclusive economic zone. After Irish fishermen threatened to interfere in Russian navy exercises that were to take place in their waters, the Russian Embassy in Ireland changed its mind.

Russia’s defense minister decided to relocate the exercises outside Ireland’s exclusive economic zone as a result of the requests by the Irish government and Irish fishermen organizations, so as not to hinder fishing activity, the Russian embassy in Ireland said, describing the decision as a “gesture of goodwill.” Ireland is not a member of NATO.

Diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russia-Ukraine crisis remained at a standstill after a Friday-morning call between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron. After a Friday morning call between Putin and Macron, diplomatic efforts to resolve the Russia-Ukraine crisis

remained in limbo.

President Biden and his fellow NATO leaders have repeatedly affirmed the right of countries to enter the alliance if they choose. Putin warned Macron against further NATO expansion. He stated that the U.S. response to Russia’s requests did not consider Moscow’s security concerns.

In response, Macron told Putin that Russia needs to respect the “essential principle of state sovereignty” to ensure security in Europe, according to a French official.

Putin left open the door for further diplomatic engagement, and on Monday, the United States will square off with Russia at the United Nations Security Council in a meeting requested by Washington. The Biden administration hopes to use the session to reaffirm support for Ukrainian territorial integrity, but Dmitry Polyanskiy, a top diplomat at Russia’s U.N. mission, tweeted that the meeting was a “clear PR stunt.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is slated to speak to Putin by phone this week and will “reiterate the need for Russia to step back,” his office said. He will also visit Eastern Europe.

While Putin’s relations with Washington are strained, he will meet in the coming days with world leaders who are more sympathetic to Moscow. He will host a news conference with Viktor Orban (Hungarian Prime Minister) Tuesday in an attempt to capitalize on signs of European disunity. Orban told local radio that Putin would ask him to boost gas supplies to Budapest. Hungary is both a member and NATO.

Putin also is to attend the Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Beijing next week in a show of support to Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose government backed Putin’s efforts in Eastern Europe. The United States, along with several Western countries, are refusing to send senior officials to the Winter Games in protest at China’s violations of human rights.

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