Efforts to defuse Ukraine’s crisis through a frenzy of phone diplomacy failed to ease tensions yesterday, as US President Joe Biden warned that Russia faces “quick and heavy costs” if its troops stage an invasion.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin has slammed Western claims that Moscow is planning such a move as “provocative speculation” that could lead to conflict in the former Soviet country, according to a Russian advert of a call with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Following new phone calls between Putin and Biden, the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said in a conference call: “The hysteria has peaked.”
Weeks of tension, in which Russia has nearly surrounded its western neighbor with more than 100,000 troops, intensified after Washington warned a full-scale invasion could start “any day” and Russia launched its biggest naval drills in years over the Black Sea .
“If Russia mounts another invasion of Ukraine, the United States, along with our allies and partners, will respond decisively and impose swift and heavy costs on Russia,” Biden told Putin, according to the White House.
While the United States has been poised to engage diplomatically, “we are equally prepared for other scenarios,” Biden said, as the two nations stare at one of the gravest crises in East-West relations since the Cold War.
While the talks between Biden and Putin were “professional and substantive” and lasted just over an hour, they brought “no fundamental change” in dynamics, a senior US official told reporters.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated a US warning that Russia could stage a “false flag” incident to invade.
“No one should be surprised when Russia instigates a provocation or an incident that it then uses to justify a military action that it had been planning all along,” said Blinken, speaking to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Saturday.
Russia’s Defense Ministry added to the feverish atmosphere by announcing it had expelled a US submarine it said had entered its territorial waters near the Kuril Islands in the North Pacific.
But the US Indo-Pacific Command denied operating in Russian territorial waters.
Russia reinforced the ominous tone by withdrawing some of its diplomatic staff from Ukraine, with the foreign ministry saying its decision was prompted by fears of “possible provocations by the Kiev regime”.
Ukrainians yesterday took part in an open military training for civilians.
Credit: SIPA USA/Alamy Live News
But Washington and a host of European countries, as well as Israel, alluded to the growing threat of a Russian invasion as they urged their citizens to leave Ukraine as soon as possible.
Britain and the United States also withdrew the majority of their remaining military advisors, while the US embassy ordered “most” of its staff in Kiev to leave.
Australia said it had ordered all remaining embassy staff in Kyiv to evacuate, and Canada said it would temporarily close its embassy and move operations to the western city of Lviv.
Dutch airline KLM announced that it is suspending commercial flights to Ukraine until further notice.
The prospect of fleeing Westerners prompted Kiev to appeal to its citizens to “keep calm”.
“Right now, the people’s greatest enemy is panic,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a visit to troops stationed near Russia’s annexed Crimea.
Moscow “doesn’t give a damn” about the risk of Western sanctions if it invades Ukraine, Russia’s open ambassador to Sweden told a Swedish newspaper.
No news is bad news
Support the journal
Your posts will help us continue to deliver the stories you care about
Support us now
“Excuse my language, but we don’t give a damn about all their sanctions,” Viktor Tatarintsev told Aftonbladet newspaper in an interview published on its website yesterday.
“We already had so many sanctions and in that sense they have had a positive impact on our economy and agriculture,” said the veteran diplomat, who speaks fluent Swedish and has been posted to the Scandinavian country four times.
“We are more self-sufficient and have been able to increase our exports. We don’t have Italian or Swiss cheeses, but we’ve learned to make equally good Russian cheeses from Italian and Swiss recipes,” he said.
“New sanctions are nothing positive, but not as bad as the West sounds,” he added.
Tatarintsev accused the West of not understanding the Russian mentality.
“The more the West puts pressure on Russia, the stronger the Russian response will be,” he said.
The diplomat insisted that Moscow was trying to avoid war.
“This is the sincerest wish of our political leadership. The last thing the people of Russia want is war.”