Putin will decide whether or not to recognize the separatist regions of Ukraine
- Moscow says Ukrainian armored vehicles tried to enter Russia
- Kiev calls Russian allegations ‘fake news’
- Ukraine and West on high alert as Russia creates pretext to invade Macron proposes Biden-Putin summit
- White House says summit only possible if Russia doesn’t invade
MOSCOW, Feb 21 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday he would rule within hours on the request for recognition of two regions in eastern Ukraine held by Russian-backed separatists. as independents – a move that could give Moscow a reason to openly send in troops. Read more
Separately, Moscow said Ukrainian military saboteurs tried to enter Russian territory in armed vehicles, killing five, a charge dismissed as “fake news” by Kiev.
The developments fit a pattern repeatedly predicted by Western governments, who accuse Russia of preparing to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine by blaming Kiev for the attacks and relying on calls for help from the separatist proxies.
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Washington says Russia has now amassed a force of 169,000 to 190,000 troops in the region, including pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Russia denies any plan of attack against its neighbor, which broke with Moscow rule with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But it has threatened unspecified ‘military-technical’ action unless ‘she receives sweeping security guarantees, including the promise that Ukraine never will. join NATO.
European financial markets slumped on signs of heightened confrontation, after briefly advancing on glimmers of hope that a summit could offer a way out of Europe’s biggest military crisis in decades. The price of oil – Russia’s main export – rose, while Russian stocks and the ruble plunged.
In a televised meeting of his Security Council, which normally meets behind closed doors, Putin reiterated Russia’s demands, insisting it was not enough for the West to say Ukraine was not wasn’t ready to join NATO just yet.
He also said he would make a decision “today” on the request made hours earlier by the leaders of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions, which broke away from Kyiv’s control in 2014. read more
Shelling has intensified since last week along a long front line between rebels and Ukrainian forces in eastern Ukraine. Rebels abruptly began transporting tens of thousands of civilians to Russia on Friday, accusing Kiev of planning an attack, which Ukraine denies as propaganda.
Ukraine and the West view the rebels as proxies for Russia and have warned for weeks that Moscow could use them to build a war case. Washington says it is absurd to suggest that it would be Kiev that would choose to step up now, with Russian troops massed on its border.
THE “WORST CASE SCENARIO” OCCURS
The televised meeting of the Security Council in Moscow allowed Putin and his top advisers to present their case.
Dmitry Medvedev, vice president of the Security Council, told the meeting that it was “obvious” that Ukraine did not need the two regions and that a majority of Russians would support their independence. Russia already offers passports to residents of the two regions and Medvedev said there are now 800,000 Russian citizens there.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu appeared to raise the stakes even further by claiming that Ukraine – which renounced nuclear weapons after gaining independence from the Soviet Union – had greater ‘nuclear potential’ than Iran. or North Korea.
After talks in Brussels with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Western countries were preparing for a “worst-case scenario”. Airlines Lufthansa, KLM and Air France have all canceled flights to Kyiv. Read more
Hours earlier, French President Emmanuel Macron held out hope for a diplomatic solution, saying Putin and his US counterpart Joe Biden had agreed in principle to meet.
Putin said Macron told him Washington had changed its stance on Russia’s security demands, without specifying how.
The White House said Biden agreed to the meeting “in principle,” but only “if an invasion did not occur.”
Washington, which leads the NATO alliance, has flatly rejected the idea of excluding Ukraine for good or reversing NATO’s eastward expansion of the past three decades, but has proposed talks on weapons deployments and other security issues.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a call or meeting between Putin and Biden could be arranged at any time, but there were no concrete plans for a summit yet.
Macron’s office and the White House said details would be ironed out by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov later this week.
Lavrov confirmed he planned to meet Blinken in Geneva on Thursday, and said there had been progress in security talks with the West. Blinken said any meeting would be canceled if Russia invaded.
“NOT WITHOUT US”
Ukraine said it must be included in any decision to resolve the crisis and had seen warnings online that hackers were preparing to launch cyberattacks on government agencies, banks and the military Tuesday.
“No one can solve our problem without us,” senior security official Oleksiy Danilov said during a briefing.
The Russian military said a group of saboteurs crossed the Ukrainian border near the Russian city of Rostov on Monday morning, followed by two armored vehicles that came to evacuate them. He said five members of these forces were killed when Russian forces pushed them back. Read more
Ukraine said the report was fake news and that no Ukrainian forces were present in the Rostov region.
Western countries say they are preparing sanctions that would hit Russian businesses and individuals. People familiar with the matter said that could include banning US financial institutions from processing transactions for Russian banks. Read more
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said the European Union package would include halting certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, which is awaiting German and European regulatory approval.
Ukraine called for the immediate imposition of sanctions, saying it would be too late to wait for an invasion. But the United States and Europe have said they will not act before an invasion because the threat of sanctions should act as a deterrent.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he would only call an extraordinary meeting to agree sanctions “when the time comes”.
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Reporting by Reuters Writing by Kevin Liffey Editing by Peter Graff and Frank Jack Daniel
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