Ukraine wants talks with Russia within 48 hours to discuss buildup

A Ukrainian soldier stationed in Zaitseve, near territory held by Russian-backed separatists, on Feb 11, 2022. PHOTO: NYTIMES

WASHINGTON/KYIV (REUTERS) - Ukraine said on Sunday (Feb 13) it wanted talks with Russia and members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)  within 48 hours to discuss Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine and inside annexed Crimea.

The OSCE, which has 57 participating states from Europe, Central Asia and North America, conducts operations in Ukraine including a civilian monitoring mission in Russian-backed, self-proclaimed separatist republics in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where a war that began in 2014 has killed more than 14,000 people.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow had not responded after Kyiv on Friday  invoked a part of the Vienna Document, a set of security agreements, to demand Moscow explain its military activities.

“Consequently, we take the next step. We request a meeting with Russia and all participating states within 48 hours to discuss its reinforcement & redeployment along our border and in temporarily occupied Crimea,” Mr Kuleba posted on Twitter.

“If Russia is serious when it talks about the indivisibility of security in the OSCE space, it must fulfill its commitment to military transparency in order to de-escalate tensions and enhance security for all,” he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, on the eve of a trip that takes him to Kyiv on Monday and Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, called for Russia to de-escalate and warned of sanctions if Moscow did invade.

A German official said Berlin did not expect "concrete results " but diplomacy was important.

Russia has more than 100,000 troops massed near Ukraine, which is not part of the Atlantic military alliance, and the United States - while keeping open the diplomatic channels that have so far failed to ease the crisis - has repeatedly said an invasion is imminent.

Moscow denies any such plans and has accused the West of "hysteria".

In Washington, President Joe Biden's National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said an invasion could begin "any day now".

"We cannot perfectly predict the day, but we have now been saying for some time that we are in the window," Mr Sullivan told CNN on Sunday.

US officials said they could not confirm reports that US intelligence indicated Russia planned to invade on Wednesday.

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Mr Sullivan said Washington would continue sharing what it learned with the world in order to deny Moscow the chance to stage a surprise "false flag" operation that could be a pretext for an attack.

It would also "defend every inch of Nato territory... and Russia we think fully understands that message," Mr Sullivan added in a separate CBS interview.

Mr Biden spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky on Sunday and they agreed on the importance of continuing to pursue diplomacy and deterrence in response to Russia's military build-up, the White House said after the call.

Mr Zelensky’s office said he invited Mr Biden to visit Ukraine soon. The White House declined to comment.

Mr Biden told Mr Putin in a phone call on Saturday that the West would respond decisively to any invasion and such an attack would harm and isolate Moscow.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Twitter that Kyiv had so far received almost 1,500 tonnes of ammunition from allies delivered on 17 flights, including about 180 tonnes from the US.

On Sunday, it received a consignment of Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems and ammunition by plane from Lithuania.

Military officials say Ukraine has significantly strengthened its armed forces with the help of allies, equipping the army, in particular, with American and British anti-tank systems and Turkish drones.

Meanwhile, Mr Sullivan repeated a warning for Americans to leave Ukraine, after the State Department said the US embassy's remaining diplomatic staff would work from the western city of Lviv.

Russian security demands

The Kremlin said Mr Putin told Mr Biden during their call on Saturday that Washington had failed to take Russia's main concerns into account, and that it had received no "substantial answer" on key elements of its security demands.

Mr Putin wants guarantees from the US and Nato that include blocking Ukraine's entry into Nato, refraining from missile deployments near Russia's borders and scaling back Nato's military infrastructure in Europe to 1997 levels.

Washington regards many of the proposals as non-starters but has pushed the Kremlin to discuss them jointly with Washington and its European allies.

"The diplomatic path remains open. The way for Moscow to show that it wants to pursue that path is simple," US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said after he held talks on Saturday with Asian allies.

Washington and its European allies and others have been scaling back or evacuating embassy staff and urging citizens to depart immediately or avoid travel to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Dutch carrier KLM said it would stop flying to Ukraine and Germany's Lufthansa said it was considering suspending flights.

An adviser to Mr Zelensky, Mr Mykhailo Podolyak, said that regardless of what airlines chose to do Kyiv would not close its airspace as that would resemble "a kind of partial blockade".

A French presidency official said on Saturday, after President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Mr Putin, that there were no indications from what the Russian leader said that Moscow was preparing an offensive, though Paris remained "extremely vigilant".

British Defence Minister Ben Wallace cautioned against putting too much hope in talks, telling The Sunday Times of London that there was "a whiff of Munich in the air from some in the West", referring to a 1938 pact that failed to halt German expansionism under Adolf Hitler.

Singaporeans urged to leave Ukraine

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has advised Singaporeans in Ukraine to leave the country amid rising tensions.

In a travel advisory issued on Sunday (Feb 13) night, MFA said Singaporeans are advised to leave Ukraine as soon as possible via commercial means while it is still possible to do so.

It said the ministry may not be in a position to assist with departure if conflict breaks out, adding that Singapore does not have a diplomatic mission in Ukraine.

Singaporeans who are still in Ukraine should immediately e-register with the MFA at this website.

Those requiring consular assistance can contact the MFA Duty Office (24 hours) on:
Tel: +65 6379-8800/55
Fax: +65 6476-7302

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