Ukraine president hits out at ‘panic’ over Russia as Putin says west has ignored his demands

Volodymyr Zelenskyy calls for calm as Kremlin says US and Nato have failed to meet his conditions

Laurie Churchman
Saturday 29 January 2022 02:37
President Volodymyr Zelensky compares Ukraine situation to movie Don’t Look Up
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The Ukrainian president has told the west to avoid creating “panic” over the build-up of Russian troops on his country’s border.

Playing down fears of a possible invasion, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said unnecessary alarm had led investors and foreign diplomats to pull out of Ukraine. “We don’t need this panic,” he said.

He also described the decision by the US, UK, Australia, Germany and Canada to withdraw some of their diplomats from Kyiv as a “mistake”. He said: “The captains should not leave the ship. I don’t think we have a Titanic here.”

His call for calm came as Russia’s president Vladimir Putin criticised the latest US proposals to ease tensions, saying they ignore his demands.

He said he would not start a war in Ukraine – but Russia has warned the US and Nato have left little room for compromise.

In a phone call with French president Emmanuel Macron, Mr Putin said the west has failed to consider Russia’s basic conditions.

The Kremlin said these were halting further Nato expansion, stopping the deployment of alliance weapons near Russian borders, and rolling back its forces from eastern Europe.

But after weeks of silence, Mr Putin has said he is ready to keep talking.

His conversation with Mr Macron on Friday was said to be serious and respectful, and the two leaders discussed “the necessity of de-escalation”, according to a French official. Mr Putin is understood not to have made concessions.

According to a Kremlin account of the phone call, the Russian president said he would study the US and Nato response before deciding a next move.

The US and Nato rejected Mr Putin’s demands this week, but Washington outlined areas where it said discussions were possible amid the buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine.

Russia has denied it is planning an attack but the US has warned Ukraine there is a “distinct possibility” Russia could take military action next month.

But today, President Zelenskyy talked down the threat of an imminent invasion. “We aren’t seeing any escalation bigger than before,” he told a news conference.

He suggested Russian troop concentration could be an attempt from Moscow to sow panic and exert “psychological pressure”.

Western alarm over an imminent invasion was “cost[ing] Ukrainians dearly”, he said, and had prompted investors in the country’s financial markets to cash out.

Ukrainian officials have been eager to project calm. Defense minister Oleksii Reznikov told parliament the number of Russian troops near Ukraine – about 130,000 – is comparable to Moscow’s military buildup last spring, when Russia eventually pulled its forces back after massive exercises.

Nato has said it is bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the US has put 8,500 troops on higher alert for possible deployment to Europe.

Russia has launched military drills involving motorised infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic.

Russian troops have also headed to Belarus for sweeping joint drills, raising fears in the west that Moscow could stage an attack on Ukraine from the north.

Meanwhile the US and the EU have pledged to work together to secure Europe’s energy supply following fears armed conflict could disrupt natural gas supplies from Russia.

In a joint statement, Joe Biden and Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said they were seeking “diverse sources across the globe to avoid supply shocks, including those that could result from a further Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

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