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Biden in stern warning for Ukraine as Russia threatens ‘military and technical’ action – POLITICO

US President Joe Biden warned on Thursday that there was a “very high” threat that Russia would launch an invasion of Ukraine “in the coming days” as the Kremlin sent Washington a memo bitterly complaining that its demands for Security assurances were being ignored, and still threatening a “military-technical” response.

Biden, speaking in Washington, flatly contradicted claims by Moscow in recent days that he had begun to withdraw forces from Ukraine’s borders. He said Russia’s military buildup continued and he now expected an attack based on a fabricated provocation.

“They haven’t moved any of their troops,” Biden said. “They moved more troops, number one. Second, we have reason to believe that they are engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to enter.

Meanwhile, Russia, in its letter to the United States, reiterated its demands for new binding commitments, including that Ukraine would never join NATO, that missiles would not be deployed near Russia’s borders, and that NATO would withdraw all its forces from Eastern Europe.

“In the absence of the will of the American side to agree on firm and legally binding guarantees to ensure our security vis-à-vis the United States and its allies,” the letter states, “Russia will obliged to react, in particular by implementing measures of a military-technical nature.

The renewed warnings and threats came on a day of rapid events that included further ceasefire violations in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, including the shelling of neighborhoods in areas controlled by Kiev from the Luhansk region which damaged homes and schools.

Ukraine’s pro-Western government has blamed the artillery attacks on pro-Russian separatists who have waged war in the region for the past eight years.

In New York, the UN Security Council met to discuss the situation in Ukraine, with Russia using its current chairmanship of the body to try to portray Ukraine as unwilling to implement the agreements. Minsk peace agreements, which have been blocked for a long time. US officials, however, took advantage of the session to reiterate their warnings.

And in Brussels, NATO defense ministers concluded a two-day meeting where they asked military commanders to draw up plans to increase the presence of alliance forces along the eastern flank. , potentially with four new battlegroups in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. Such a move would mean that Moscow would have achieved the opposite of its stated goal of getting NATO to withdraw its troops from countries that joined the alliance after 1997.

Also on Thursday, EU heads of state and government gathered in a hastily organized meeting to discuss the continued threat from Russia and their plans to impose heavy economic sanctions in the event of a ‘attack. The meeting included reports from French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on their recent trips to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, and officials cited broad consensus to respond to Moscow’s belligerence in concert with the United States. , the United Kingdom, Canada and other allies.

“All the leaders who visited Moscow kept the same line,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told POLITICO in an interview after the rally, which took place ahead of a major summit of European and African leaders. “Russia is negatively surprised because even [as] they have separate meetings, even behind closed doors, the talking points are always the same.

But if the West’s message has been surprisingly consistent, so have the demands of Russia, which has undertaken a gigantic buildup of troops, military equipment and advanced weapons – including ground capabilities, sea ​​and air – which now almost surround Ukraine.

Russian officials have insisted that the gathering of forces is only an exercise, including joint maneuvers on the territory of Belarus, and in recent days senior officials have said that some of these exercises are ending and that the forces were beginning to withdraw.

Some Russian officials have also ridiculed advance warnings from Western leaders, including Biden, who told allies an attack could begin as early as Feb. 16. Russia’s ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, sarcastically told German newspaper Die Welt: “Wars in Europe rarely start on a Wednesday.

Western warnings

Despite the mockery emanating from Moscow, the warnings from Western leaders continued unabated. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has been among the most forceful, using the meeting of defense ministers this week to reiterate that the allies have seen no visible evidence of a Russian withdrawal. On the contrary, he said, the allies believed that Russia was looking for excuses to justify an attack.

“Despite Moscow’s claims, we have seen no signs of withdrawal or de-escalation so far,” Stoltenberg said at a press conference on Thursday. “On the contrary, Russia’s rise seems to be continuing.”

The NATO chief said he did not know precisely when or how Russia would try to set up a pretext for an armed attack, but added: “What we do know is that Russia has amassed the greatest force that we have seen in Europe in decades, in and around Ukraine. And we also know that there are many Russian intelligence agents operating in Ukraine. They are present in Donbass, and we have seen attempts to stage a pretext, false flag operations, to provide an excuse for the invasion of Ukraine.

And in another extraordinary development, the UK Ministry of Defense tweeted a map under the heading ‘Intelligence Update’ showing the routes it describes as ‘President Putin’s possible invasion axis’. It was the latest in a remarkable series of disclosures by Western intelligence or analysis officials that in earlier eras might have remained classified, and showed that Russian forces were potentially advancing on Kiev from Belarus in the north, mounting a three-pronged attack on Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia, and Mariupol from the east, and moving on Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odessa from the Crimea to the south.

“He can always choose to prevent conflict and preserve peace,” the ministry said, echoing virtually every Western official who said there was still a chance for a diplomatic resolution.

Russia has denied any plans for an invasion, but it also continues to deny any role in the war in Donbass, where it organised, financed and armed both separatist fighters and separatist government structures in occupied areas of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

In its roughly 2,300-word memo to the United States — technically a response to the American response to written security requests from Russia, published in December — the Russian government expressed fury at the lack of specific responses to its stated requirements. The Russian proposals would effectively rewrite Europe’s security architecture, and Western leaders had dismissed most of them as non-starters.

In its letter, Russia accused the West of not paying attention to its needs and of exaggerating the threat of Russian troops deployed along the border, noting that they are mostly located on Russia’s own territory. Russia.

“We assume that the deployment of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on its territory does not and cannot affect the fundamental interests of the United States,” Russia wrote. “We would like to remind you that there are no our forces on the territory of Ukraine. At the same time, the United States and its allies were moving their military infrastructure to the east, deploying contingents in the territories some new [NATO] members.

“Our ‘red lines’ and core security interests are ignored and Russia’s inalienable right to respect them is denied,” Russia wrote. “For us, that is of course unacceptable.”

Amid lingering concerns of an impending attack, there were other signs that the post-Cold War global security order was being redesigned.

As EU leaders met with their African counterparts, Macron announced that France was withdrawing its troops from Mali, where it has carried out a nine-year counter-terrorism operation. The French presence in Mali has become untenable, following two coups in the past two years, and the arrival in the country of mercenaries from Wagner, the Russian paramilitary group.

In Kyiv on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss joined Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to announce a new trilateral security partnership between Britain, Ukraine and Poland. With Ukraine’s NATO aspirations potentially on the back burner, smaller security pacts are seen as a potential palliative. Turkey has also offered support to Ukraine, including through plans to establish a factory that will build armed drones.

Meanwhile, in Moscow on Thursday, Putin met authoritarian Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who was making his first visit to the Russian capital, and they pledged to work on developing economic and other ties.

In its letter to the United States, Russia noted that Washington had expressed its willingness to hold security talks on a limited number of issues, including arms control, rules regarding military exercises and Russia’s insistence so that no NATO forces are deployed in Ukraine.

But the Russians said their request should be seen as part of a comprehensive package, and they chastised the US side for picking and choosing.

“Russia, in the documents we submitted on security guarantees, has offered to follow the path of a long-term comprehensive settlement of the unacceptable situation that continues to develop in the Euro-Atlantic area,” wrote Russia, adding: “The Russian proposals are comprehensive in nature and should be considered as a whole without distinguishing its individual components. In this regard, we would like to emphasize the lack of a constructive reaction from Washington and Brussels to the elements the most important of the Russian initiative.

Jacopo Barigazzi, Lili Bayer, Cristina Gallardo and Paul McLeary contributed reporting.

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