Ukraine-Russia crisis: What to know as diplomacy steps up The Denver Post

BERLIN — Diplomatic efforts to head off what U.S. officials have warned could be an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine entered a new round on Monday as Germany’s chancellor met the Ukrainian president in Kyiv.

Britain’s prime minister says Europe is “on the edge of a precipice,” citing an American warning that Russia could invade Ukraine in the next 48 hours. But he says there’s still time for Russian President Vladimir Putin to “step back.”

And Russia’s top diplomat has advised Putin to continue talks with the West on Russian security demands, arguing that possibilities for talks haven’t been exhausted.

Here’s a look at what is happening where and why:

WHAT IS THE GERMAN LEADER BRINGING?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s first visit to Kyiv since taking office in December comes before his first visit to Moscow on Tuesday. It’s part of a flurry of in-person and remote diplomacy by Western leaders.

Scholz was taking a message of solidarity to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after criticism of Germany for its refusal to join some allies in sending lethal weapons to the country.

Scholz said Sunday that Ukraine could “be sure that we will show the necessary solidarity, as we did in the past,” pointing to financial aid to Kyiv in the past.

He renewed his warning that Russian military aggression against Ukraine “will lead to tough responses and sanctions that we have carefully prepared and that we can make effective immediately, together with our allies in Europe and in NATO.”

Scholz will meet Putin on Tuesday.

In Berlin, Germany’s finance minister said the Group of Seven industrial powers would make a tough joint response to any Russian violation of Ukraine’s “political and territorial borders.” He said the group, which Germany currently chairs, has “assured Ukraine that we will continue to support its economic development and also will keep in sight the financial stability of Ukraine in this crisis.”

WHAT’S THE TIMELINE FOR A RUSSIAN MOVE?

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Europe is “on the edge of a precipice,” citing an American warning that Russia could invade Ukraine in the next 48 hours.

“But there is still time for President Putin to step back,” Johnson said.

Johnson urged a united response from NATO. He said “the world needs to learn the lesson of 2014,” when not enough was done to move away from Russian gas and oil following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and activity in eastern Ukraine.

He said Europe needed to wean itself off “Russian hydrocarbons” and repeated his call for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany to be scrapped.

Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, declined to say whether the U.K. agreed with the U.S. that Wednesday is a potential invasion date. But he said “there is a grave possibility of an invasion this week.”

Separately, the head of non-NATO-member Sweden’s military forces said Russia has “all the needed capacity along the Ukrainian border for a military operation.”

“We do not exclude anything,” Gen. Micael Byden, the head of Sweden’s Armed Forces. “Whether it happens today, on Wednesday or a week, we do not know.”

WHAT IS RUSSIA SAYING?

Russia’s top diplomat advised Putin on Monday to continue talks with the West on Russian security demands amid tensions over Ukraine.

Speaking at the start of a meeting with Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that Moscow should continue a dialogue with the U.S. and its allies even though they have rejected Russia’s main security demands.

He noted that the U.S. has offered to conduct dialogue on limits for missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills and other confidence-building measures.

Asked by Putin if it made sense to continue diplomatic efforts, Lavrov responded that possibilities for talks haven’t been exhausted and proposed to continue the negotiations.

AND WHAT IF TALKS DON’T SUCCEED?

Poland is making preparations to accept Ukrainian refugees in the event of another Russian attack on its neighbor. But the Polish government hopes that worst-case scenario can be averted.

Similar preparations are being made across the region, particularly in nations that border Ukraine.

Poland, which has welcomed large numbers of Ukrainian economic migrants in recent years, particularly after Russia’s incursions into Ukraine in 2014, has been making plans for weeks to accept refugees if it comes to that, said Marcin Przydacz, a deputy foreign minister.

WHAT’S WITH UKRAINE’S NATO AMBITIONS?

Ukraine’s ambassador to Britain has clarified comments appearing to suggest that his country could consider dropping its ambition to join NATO to avoid war with Russia.

Vadym Prystaiko told BBC radio on Sunday that “we might” drop the ambition, which is enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution, because Ukraine was being “blackmailed.”

“What I’m saying here is that we are flexible, trying to find the best way out,” the ambassador said. “If we have to go through some serious concessions, that’s something we might do.”

On Monday, Prystaiko said there had been a misunderstanding. He said that “to avoid war we are ready for many concessions.”

“But it has nothing to do with NATO, which is enshrined in the constitution,” he said.

HOW IS UKRAINE’S PRESIDENT FARING?

Zelenskyy won a landslide victory in 2019. As a political novice making an unlikely bid for the job, he had vowed to reach out to Russia-backed rebels in the east who were fighting Ukrainian forces and make strides toward resolving the conflict.

But Zelenskyy is watching his once-enormous support dissolve as Ukraine faces fears of a Russian invasion that could not only take the rebel regions but possibly the rest of the country.

To make matters worse, the incumbent whom Zelenskyy defeated in 2019 has boldly returned to the country to face charges of treason and stir up opposition to him. Analysts suggest that Moscow is seeking to bolster support among pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine and that the buildup of Russian forces near Ukraine’s border is aimed partly at destabilizing the country’s politics.

Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Jill Lawless in London, Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland, and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

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