Flights to Ukraine suspended, diverted due to outbreak of crisis


Several airlines have canceled or redirected flights to Ukraine amid growing fears that a Russian invasion is imminent despite weekend talks between the Kremlin and the West.

In an hour-long phone call on Saturday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Joe Biden said that invading Ukraine would cause “massive human suffering” and that the West committed diplomacy to end it. end the crisis but “is equally prepared for other scenarios,” the White House said. It makes no suggestion that the call downplays the threat of an impending war in Europe.

The two presidents spoke a day after Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, warned that US intelligence indicates a Russian invasion could begin within the next few days.

Russia denies any intention to invade but has deployed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and has sent troops to exercise in neighboring Belarus. U.S. officials say Russia’s buildup of firepower has reached the point where it could be invaded in a short period of time.

Dutch airline KLM has canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice, the company said on Saturday.

The Netherlands’ sensitivity to potential danger in Ukrainian airspace heightened after the 2014 downing of a Malaysian plane over eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed rebels. All 298 people on board were killed, including 198 Dutch citizens.

Ukraine’s SkyUp airline on Sunday said its flight from Madeira, Portugal, to Kyiv had been redirected to the Moldovan capital Chisinau after the Irish lessor said it had banned the flights. in Ukrainian airspace.

Ukrainian Presidential spokesman Serhii Nykyforov told the AP news agency that Ukraine has not closed its airspace. A statement from the Department of Infrastructure said: “Several carriers are experiencing difficulties due to volatility in the insurance market.”

The call between Putin and Biden, following a phone call between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron earlier in the day, comes at a pivotal moment in the biggest security crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. . American officials believe they have only a few days to avert a massive invasion and bloodshed in Ukraine.

While the US and its NATO allies have no plans to send troops to Ukraine to counter Russia, an invasion and resulting punitive sanctions could resonate further than the former Soviet republic, affect energy supplies, global markets and the balance of power in Europe.

“President Biden has made it clear to President Putin that while the United States remains prepared to engage in diplomacy, in full coordination with our Allies and partners, we are also prepared for any eventuality.” other circumstances,” the White House statement said.

Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s top foreign policy aide, said that while tensions have been escalating for months, in recent days “the situation has simply been brought to the point of absurdity”.

He said Biden had mentioned possible sanctions against Russia, but “this issue was not the focus of a rather lengthy conversation with the Russian leader.”

In a sign that American officials are ready for the worst, the United States has announced plans to evacuate most of its staff from its embassy in the Ukrainian capital and called on all American citizens in Ukraine to leave. out of the country immediately. Britain has joined other European countries in asking its citizens to leave Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said Canada has closed its embassy in Kyiv and moved its diplomatic staff to a temporary office in Lviv, located in the western part of the country. Lviv is home to a Ukrainian military base that was once the main hub for Canada’s mission to train 200 soldiers in the former Soviet Union country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy downplayed fears of an invasion, urging the country to remain calm.

“I believe there is a lot of information in the information space today,” he said on Saturday.

The timing of any possible Russian military action remains an important question.

According to a US official familiar with the findings, the US has obtained intelligence that Russia is considering Wednesday as a target date. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and did so only on condition of anonymity, would not comment on the authenticity of the intelligence.

US-Russia tensions continued to rise on Saturday when the Defense Department summoned the US Embassy’s military attaché after it said the navy had detected an American submarine in Russian waters near the Kuril Islands. in the Pacific Ocean. The submarine refused an order to leave, but departed after the navy used unspecified “appropriate means,” the ministry said.

Adding to the sense of crisis, the Pentagon sent 3,000 more US troops to Poland to reassure allies.

In addition to the more than 100,000 ground troops that US officials say Russia has assembled along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, the Russians have deployed missile, air, naval and operational forces. special operations, as well as supplies to sustain a war. This week, Russia moved six amphibious assault ships into the Black Sea, enhancing the amphibious capabilities of its marines on the coast.

Biden has increased the US military presence in Europe as a reassurance to allies on NATO’s eastern flank. 3,000 additional troops were ordered to Poland, topping 1,700 already on their way there. The US military is also transferring 1,000 troops from Germany to Romania, just like Poland shares a border with Ukraine.

Russia is asking the West not to let the former Soviet Union countries out of NATO. It also wants NATO to limit the deployment of weapons near its borders and push back coalition forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly denied by the West.

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.


Yuras Karmanau of Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this story.

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