Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned against panic Saturday after the US ordered most of the staff of the US embassy in Kyiv to evacuate. The order was preceded by a fresh warning from the White House that the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine was “immediate” and could happen before the Beijing Olympics end on February 20th.
Since November, the US has been warning that Russia was preparing to invade Ukraine, an accusation Moscow has repeatedly denied. The US narrative has been falling apart as Ukrainian officials have been downplaying the threat.
“I think there’s too much out there about a full-scale war from Russia, and people are even naming dates. The best friend for our enemies is panic in our country, and all this information only creates panic, it doesn’t help us,” Zelensky said.
US media reports said US intelligence suggested Russian President Vladimir Putin could order an invasion as soon as Wednesday, the 16th. But as usual, the reports offered no evidence to back up the claim, and Zelensky said he hadn’t seen information that showed an invasion is definite.
“We understand all the risks, we understand that there are risks. If you, or anyone else, has additional information regarding a 100% Russian invasion starting on the 16th, please forward that information to us,” he said.
Amid the tensions, President Biden spoke with Putin by phone on Saturday, but no breakthrough was made. The White House said Biden warned Putin of “severe costs” if Russia invades. The Kremlin said the two leaders discussed Russia’s security concerns but that Biden was not addressing the “key” issues.
“I will immediately note that the Russian president reacted in the spirit that the Russian side would carefully analyze the considerations expressed by Biden and would undoubtedly take them into account,” said Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov.
“But unfortunately, and this was said, these considerations do not touch upon the central, key elements of Russian initiatives,” Ushakov added. Russia’s main security demand is for a guarantee that Ukraine won’t ever join NATO and a halt to the military alliance’s eastward expansion. But both sides have indicated they’re ready to seriously negotiate arms control issues.