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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Ukraine as fears of Russian aggression grow

KYIV, Ukraine – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Ukraine on Monday, part of Western diplomacy aimed at countering a fearsome Russian invasion that some warn could come only within a short period of time. next few days.

Scholz plans to continue on to Moscow, where he will try to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to refuse.

US officials have warned that Russia could strike this week. Moscow denies it has any such plans but has concentrated more than 130,000 troops near Ukraine and, from the US point of view, has built up enough firepower to launch an offensive in the short term.

With fears of a possible impending war, several airlines canceled flights to the Ukrainian capital and the military there unloaded new arms shipments from NATO members on Sunday. The United States, Britain and other European nations have asked their citizens to leave the country, and Washington is also withdrawing most of its staff from its embassy in Kyiv.

Ukraine’s air traffic safety agency Ukraerorukh issued a statement declaring the airspace over the Black Sea a “potentially dangerous area” due to Russian naval exercises and advising aircraft to avoid flying over this area. from 14-19 February.

The US and its NATO allies have repeatedly warned that Russia will pay a heavy price for any invasion – but they have at times struggled to present a united front. In particular, Scholz’s government has been criticized for refusing to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons or introduce sanctions it would support against Russia, raising questions about Berlin’s resolve in standing up against Moscow.

Therefore, the prime minister’s visits this week will be closely watched for signs of deviation from the message given by Washington and other NATO allies.

So far, those warnings don’t seem to have much effect: Russia has only been building up its troops and weapons in the region and conducting major military exercises in its ally Belarus, which neighboring Ukraine. The West is concerned that the exercises, which entered a decisive phase last week and will last through Sunday, could be used by Moscow as cover for an invasion from the north.

Moscow wants assurances from the West that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet Union countries to join, and that the alliance will stop deploying weapons to Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe. The US and NATO have flatly rejected those requests.

Some observers expect Moscow to eventually accept a compromise that avoids conflict and allows all sides to save face. While NATO refuses to close the door to Ukraine, the alliance also has no intention of accepting it or any other country outside of the former Soviet Union anytime soon. Some experts have floated ideas like a ban on NATO expansion or neutrality over Ukraine to defuse tensions.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, Vadym Prystaiko, seems to suggest only such a middle path, telling the BBC on Sunday that the country could abandon its goal of joining NATO – a goal enshrined in their constitution – if to prevent war with Russia. .

Prystaiko told BBC Radio 5: “We could – especially under such threats, be blackmailed and pushed there.

However, on Monday, Prystaiko appeared to have denied that, saying that “to avoid war, we are ready to make many concessions … but it has nothing to do with NATO, which is enshrined in the treaty. Constitution.”

In an hour-long phone call on Saturday with President Putin, US President Joe Biden said that invading Ukraine would cause “massive human suffering” and that the West was committed to diplomacy to end the conflict. crisis but also “be prepared for other scenarios,” the White House said.

Biden also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for about an hour on Sunday, agreeing to continue pushing for both deterrence and diplomacy to try to thwart a Russian attack.

As previously stated, Zelenskyy seeks to downplay the idea that a conflict is imminent, noting that Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities are “safe and reliably protected.”

His office reading the call also quoted him as suggesting that a quick Biden visit would help clarify the situation – signaling Zelenskyy hopes the US leader might actually come. That possibility was not mentioned in the White House summary of the call.

“I believe your arrival in Kyiv in the coming days, which is important for stabilizing the situation, will be a strong signal and contribute to de-escalation,” Zelenskyy was quoted by his office as telling Biden.

The Biden administration has been increasingly outspoken about concerns that Russia could create a false pretext for an invasion in the coming days.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly leader was kicked out of office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean Peninsula and then backing separatists in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has left more than 14,000 people dead.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped prevent large-scale battles, but frequent skirmishes have continued and efforts to reach a political agreement have stalled.

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https://abc13.com/russian-invasion-russia-ukraine-german-chancellor-olaf-scholz-attack/11562905/ German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Ukraine as fears of Russian aggression grow

Dais Johnston

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