Ukraine crisis: Predictions of Russian invasion are increasing tensions, says Kremlin

Ukrainian servicemen taking part in exercises. Photograph: Armed Forces of Ukraine/AFP via Getty Images


Repeated Western predictions of a Russian invasion of Ukraine are provocative and may have adverse consequences, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Sunday.

US president Joe Biden said on Friday he was convinced Russian president Vladimir Putin had made a decision to invade Ukraine, and though there was still room for diplomacy, he expected Russia to move on the country in the coming days. Russia has repeatedly denied preparing to invade Ukraine.

Mr Putin takes no notice of such Western statements, Mr Peskov told Rossiya 1 state TV.

“The fact is that this directly leads to an increase in tension. And when tension is escalated to the maximum, as it is now, for example, on the line of contact (in eastern Ukraine), then any spark, any unplanned incident or any minor planned provocation can lead to irreparable consequences,” he said.

“So all this has — may have — detrimental consequences. The daily exercise of announcing a date for Russia to invade Ukraine is a very bad practice.”

Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday said that it was time for the West to implement at least part of the sanctions it has prepared against Russia.

“Russia has to be stopped right now. We see how events are unfolding,” Mr Kuleba said.

Mr Kuleba’s statement came soon after Russia and Belarus announced an extension of military drills near Ukrainian borders, with Western leaders warning of an imminent Russian invasion while clashes intensify in eastern Ukraine.

“It’s time to act. I’m officially saying that there are all the grounds to implement at least a part of sanctions prepared against Russia, now,” Mr Kuleba said at a televised briefing from a security conference in Munich.

Conflict

British prime minister Boris Johnson on Saturday said Russia’s plan to invade Ukraine would lead to the largest conflict in Europe since the second World War.

Mr Johnson said he wanted people to “understand the sheer cost in human life” that an incursion into Ukraine would bring, with casualties on both the Russian and Ukrainian sides, as he continued to urge Moscow to engage in peace talks.

British foreign secretary Liz Truss used a separate interview to state that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin “will not stop at Ukraine” as she argued he is looking to piece the Soviet Union back together.

The comments came as Ukraine’s military said two soldiers died on Saturday as violence escalated in the east of the country between government forces and rebels.

Mr Johnson spent Saturday engaged in diplomatic efforts to avoid war as he warned the Kremlin during a speech at the Munich Security Conference of increased financial sanctions should Mr Putin order troops across the border.

He also told broadcasters that he believed Mr Putin’s invasion plan was “in motion” with the aggression in the Donbas region potentially a “prelude to bigger action”.

In other comments made while in Germany, Mr Johnson warned that the “sheer scale” of the offensive being prepared by Moscow had not been seen for almost 80 years.

He told BBC News: “The plan that we’re seeing is for something that could be the biggest war in Europe since 1945 just in terms of sheer scale.

“You’re looking at not just an invasion through the east through the Donbas, but according to the intelligence we are seeing, coming down from the north, down from Belarus and actually encircling Kyiv itself, as Joe Biden explained to a lot of us last night.

“I think a lot of people need to understand the sheer cost in human life that that could entail, not just for Ukrainians but for Russians.”

Talks

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for Mr Putin to meet him for talks amid increasingly dire warnings that Russia plans to invade.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Mr Zelenskyy stressed the need for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, and said the Russian president could pick the location for the meeting.

He said: “I don’t know what the president of the Russian Federation wants, so I am proposing a meeting.

“Ukraine will continue to follow only the diplomatic path for the sake of a peaceful settlement.”

On Sunday, European Council president Charles Michel said the question on whether the Kremlin wants dialogue remains unanswered.

He said: “We cannot forever offer an olive branch while Russia conducts missile tests and continues to amass troops.

“One thing is certain: if there is further military aggression, we will react with massive sanctions.”

It came hours after separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine ordered a full military mobilisation and Western leaders warned a Russian invasion of its neighbour appeared imminent.

Hundreds of artillery shells exploded along the contact line between Ukrainian soldiers and Russia-backed separatists on Sunday, and thousands of people evacuated eastern Ukraine.

Germany and Austria have told their citizens to leave Ukraine. German air carrier Lufthansa cancelled flights to the capital Kyiv and to Odessa, a Black Sea port that could be a key target in an invasion.

Nato’s liaison office in Kyiv said it is relocating staff to Brussels and to the western Ukraine city of Lviv.

Conflict

Top Ukrainian military officials came under a shelling attack during a tour of the front of the nearly eight-year separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

The officials fled to a bomb shelter before hustling from the area, according to an Associated Press journalist who was on the tour.

Violence in eastern Ukraine has spiked in recent days as Ukraine and the two regions held by the rebels each accused the other of escalation.

Russia on Saturday said at least two shells fired from a government-held part of eastern Ukraine landed across the border, but Ukrainian foreign minister Mr Kuleba dismissed that claim as “a fake statement”.

Sporadic violence has broken out for years along the line separating Ukrainian forces from the Russia-backed rebels, but the recent shelling and bombing spike could set off a full-scale war.

US vice-president Kamala Harris met with Mr Zelenskyy at the Munich talks on Saturday and warned the world is at “a decisive moment in history”. – Agencies