Russia-Ukraine tensions high as Biden-Putin call fails to yield a breakthrough

Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, maintained that the “situation remains under control,” saying in a video statement released by the foreign ministry on Sunday that Ukraine continues to work with partners to settle the crisis diplomatically. “We are prepared for any scenario of development of events,” he said. “We have not been sitting with our arms folded for the last months, we have prepared for all scenarios – absolutely all – and as of now we are ready for them.”

Russia, which is entering its fourth day of major military drills in neighboring Belarus Sunday, has pledged to withdraw its troops following the exercise, and denies any plans to invade. The drills are the largest Moscow has ever carried out in the Kremlin-allied state to Ukraine’s north.

Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations called on the United States to provide any evidence that makes it certain of a Russian attack. “Please share this information with us too, since we are not aware of it as well!” Dmitry Polyanskiy tweeted late Saturday.

The Kremlin has painted Ukraine as the aggressor and demanded that the increasingly pro-Western former Soviet republic be permanently barred from joining NATO, the military alliance of mainly Western countries united by a mutual defense treaty. NATO has refused to budget on its open-door policy.

kuleba said Saturday he held a string of calls with European counterparts about the security crisis, including Alexander Schallenberg of Austria, with whom he discussed “active efforts by the EU and the wider international coalition to protect Ukraine and deter Russia from further aggression.”

He also tweeted that he had discussed joint diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions in the Black and Azov seas with Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, after Russian warships entered the Black Sea last week for large-scale naval drills that Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said would render international shipping lanes “virtually impossible” to navigate.

In the latest wave of European diplomacy, French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with Putin for more than 90 minutes Saturday, his office said, and held separate calls with Zelensky and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The German leader is due to meet with Putin in Moscow next week.

Britain’s defense secretary Ben Wallace, who visited Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart on Friday, said it is “highly likely” that Putin will order an attack on Ukraine. He liked the 11th-hour efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the crisis to the failed attempts at appeasement in the lead-up to World War II.

“It may be that [Putin] just switches off his tanks and we all go home, but there is a whiff of Munich in the air from some in the West,” he told Britain’s Sunday Times — in an apparent reference to the appeasement policies of the 1930s that allowed Hitler to annex the border area of ​​what was then Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudetenland, but failed to avert a world war.

Despite the heightened warnings that Russia could invade at any time, the European Union said Saturday it is not closing its diplomatic missions in Ukraine. “They remain in Kyiv and continue to operate in support to EU citizens and in cooperation with the Ukrainian authorities,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

But Australia on Sunday joined a growing list of governments ordering the evacuation of their embassies in Kyiv as the security situation escalates. The United States, Germany, Britain, Latvia, Norway, the Netherlands, Israel, South Korea and Japan and others have been scaling back their diplomatic presence and urging their citizens to get out of Ukraine as soon as possible in recent days. On Saturday, Canada said it will relocate its staff from Kyiv to Lviv.

“The situation is deteriorating and is reaching a very dangerous stage,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who last week hosted Secretary of State Antony Blinken for security talks, said on Sunday. “The autocratic, unilateral actions of Russia, to be threatening and bullying Ukraine, is something that is completely and utterly unacceptable,” he added.

Blinken, speaking to reporters in Hawaii on Saturday on the final leg of his Pacific tour, said that the risk of Russian military action in Ukraine is “high enough and the threat is imminent enough” that evacuating most of the staff at the US Embassy in Kyiv is the “prudent thing to do.”

David L. Stern in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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