MOSCOW – Some airlines have canceled or redirected flights to Ukraine amid heightened fears that a Russian invasion is imminent, despite intense talks over the weekend between the Kremlin and the West.
In an hour-long conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Joe Biden said the invasion of Ukraine would cause “widespread human suffering” and that the West was seeking diplomacy to end the crisis but was “equally prepared for other scenarios,” the White House said. . It had no idea that this call reduced 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 was showing that the Russian invasion could begin in a few days.
Russia denies intending to invade, but has gathered more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and sent troops to exercise in neighboring Belarus. U.S. officials say Russia’s build-up of firepower has reached a point where it can invade in no time.
Dutch airline KLM has canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice, the company said on Saturday.
The Netherlands’ susceptibility to potential danger in Ukrainian airspace is high after a Malaysian airliner shot down in 2014 over eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed rebels. All 298 people on board were killed, including 198 citizens of the Netherlands.
Ukrainian charter airline SkyUp said on Sunday that its flight from Madeira, Portugal, to Kiev was diverted to the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, after an Irish landlord announced a ban on flights in Ukrainian airspace.
Spokesman for the President of Ukraine Sergei Nikiforov told the Associated Press that Ukraine has not closed its airspace. A statement from the Ministry of Infrastructure said: “Some carriers are experiencing difficulties due to fluctuations in insurance markets.”
The conversation between Putin and Biden after a call between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day came at a critical time for what has become the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. U.S. officials believe they have a few days to prevent the invasion and massive bloodshed in Ukraine.
Although the United States and its NATO allies have no plans to send troops to Ukraine to fight Russia, the invasion and, as a result, sanctions could affect far beyond the former Soviet republic, affecting energy supplies, world markets and the balance of power. in Europe.
“President Biden has made it clear to President Putin that while the United States remains ready for diplomacy in full coordination with our allies and partners, we are equally ready for other scenarios,” the White House said in a statement.
Putin’s chief aide for foreign policy, Yuri Ushakov, said that although tensions had been rising for months, “the situation has been reduced to absurdity in recent days.”
He said Biden mentioned possible sanctions that could be imposed against Russia, but “this issue was not in the spotlight during a rather long conversation with the Russian leader.”
As a sign that U.S. officials are preparing for a worst-case scenario, the United States has announced plans to evacuate most of its staff from the embassy in the Ukrainian capital and urged all U.S. citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately. Britain has joined other European countries in urging its citizens to leave Ukraine.
Canada has closed its embassy in Kiev and transferred diplomatic staff to a temporary office in Lviv, located in the western part of the country, Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie said on Saturday. In Lviv is a Ukrainian military base, which served as the main training center for the Canadian mission of 200 troops in the former Soviet country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has eased concerns about the invasion, urging the country to remain calm.
“I believe that there is a lot of information in the information space today,” he said on Saturday.
The timing of any possible military action by Russia remains a key issue.
According to a U.S. official familiar with the findings, the U.S. has picked up intelligence that Russia views Wednesday as a target date. The official, who was not allowed to speak in public and did so only on condition of anonymity, did not say how final the intelligence was.
Further tensions between the U.S. and Russia erupted on Saturday when the Department of Defense summoned a U.S. embassy military attache after it said the Navy had discovered a U.S. submarine in Russian waters near the Kuril Islands in the Pacific. The ministry said the submarine refused the order to leave, but left after the navy used unspecified “appropriate means”.
In addition to feeling the crisis, the Pentagon has ordered an additional 3,000 U.S. troops to be sent to Poland to reassure allies.
In addition to the more than 100,000 ground troops that Russia officials say Russia has gathered along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, the Russians have deployed missile, air, naval and special operations forces, as well as supplies to support the war. This week, Russia transferred six landing ships to the Black Sea, increasing its ability to land Marines on the coast.
Biden backed the U.S. military presence in Europe as an assurance to allies on NATO’s eastern flank. An additional 3,000 soldiers, ordered to Poland, come in addition to the 1,700 who are sent there. The U.S. military is also transferring 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, which, like Poland, borders Ukraine.
Russia demands from the West not to allow the countries of the former USSR into NATO. She also wants NATO to refrain from deploying weapons near its border and to withdraw the alliance’s forces from Eastern Europe – demands that the West has categorically rejected.
Russia and Ukraine have been embroiled in fierce conflict since 2014, when Kremlin-friendly Ukrainian leader was ousted as a result of a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean peninsula and then supporting a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine, which killed more than 14,000 people.
The 2015 peace agreement, mediated by France and Germany, helped end large-scale fighting, but regular clashes continued and efforts to reach a political settlement stalled.
Yuras Karmanov from Kyiv (Ukraine) contributed to this story.
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