LONDON (AP) – Western fears that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent have eased but not disappeared.Diplomatic efforts to avert war got new energy this week after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia was willing to discuss security issues with NATO, and Russia said it was withdrawing some of its troops gathered near Ukraine´s borders.
The United States and its allies have welcomed the diplomatic overture, but say they have seen little evidence of a Russian military de-escalation.
NATO defense ministers met Wednesday in Brussels as the West tries to deter an invasion – one that Russia insists it has no intention of starting.
Here´s a look at what is happening where and why:
WHAT´S HAPPENING WITH RUSSIAN TROOPS?
Contrary to Putin’s claims, Russia has added as many as 7,000 troops near the Ukrainian border in recent days, a senior Biden administration official said Wednesday.The official was not authorized to speak publicly about sensitive operations and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. The official did not provide underlying evidence.
A 200 meter long Ukrainian flag is unfolded at the Olympiyskiy stadium in Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022. As Western officials warned a Russian invasion could happen as early as today, the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called for a Day of Unity, with Ukrainians encouraged to raise Ukrainian flags across the country. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
U.S.President Joe Biden said Tuesday that 150,000 Russian troops were massed to the north, south and east of Ukraine, and Western officials said a Russian invasion could still happen at the drop of a hat.
Russia´s Defense Ministry has announced that some units participating in military exercises will begin returning to their bases, a statement welcomed as “a good signal” by German Chancellor Lawyer Turkey Olaf Scholz.The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of a trainload of armored vehicles leaving Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014.
But NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance had not seen “any signs of de-escalation on the ground – no withdrawals of troops or equipment.”
“Russia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack,” he said.
WHAT DOES RUSSIA SAY?
The Kremlin dismisses claims that it is planning an invasion. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Western “hysteria … profoundly puzzles us,” and accused the West of trying to dictate how Russia should behave on its own territory.
Moscow´s ambassador to the European Union, Vladimir Chizhov, told German daily newspaper Welt that “there won´t be an attack this Wednesday. There won´t be an escalation next week either, or in the week after, or in the coming month.”
Western officials say even if an invasion is not imminent, Russia could keep troops massed near Ukraine for weeks, turning the military buildup into a protracted crisis that has already harmed Ukraine’s economy.
Russian forces kept up their massive war games Wednesday in Belarus, to the north of Ukraine, with fighter jets flying training missions and paratroopers holding shooting drills.
The West fears those exercises could be used as cover ahead of an invasion of Ukraine, but Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei said all Russian troops and weapons will leave the country after the maneuvers wrap up Sunday.
WHAT IS NATO DOING?
Defense ministers from NATO member nations met in Brussels to try to bolster the deterrence side of its twin-track deterrence and diplomacy strategy for Russia.
Stoltenberg said NATO would “convey a very clear message to Russia that we are ready to sit down and discuss with them but at the same time, we are prepared for the worst.”
He said Russia’s actions had provoked “a crisis in European security” and showed that Moscow was willing to undermine the pillars of the continent’s stability by threating its neighbor.
“I regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe,” he said.
Stoltenberg said NATO had discussed setting up new battlegroups in central, eastern and southeastern Europe, including one led by France in Romania, but a final decision has not been made.
NATO has ruled out sending troops to fight Russia in Ukraine, which is not a member of the Western alliance.But hundreds of American, British and other NATO troops have been sent to bolster the defenses of Eastern European member countries, including Poland and the Baltic states, that fear they may also be Russian targets.
Moscow accuses NATO of moving ever closer to Russia’s borders.A key Russian demand is that Ukraine drop its ambition to join NATO. The alliance says Ukraine must have the freedom to make its own choices.
European Union leaders are to discuss the latest developments in the crisis on Thursday before the start of an EU-Africa summit.The bloc, the U.S. and Britain have all threatened heavy sanctions on Russia if it invades.
WHAT ELSE IS THE WEST WORRIED ABOUT?
Western diplomats have called the crisis the biggest challenge to the international order since the end of the Cold War. It also has focused the attention of many European governments on the security of their future energy supplies.
Western governments accuse Russia of cutting back on its natural gas supplies to Europe to leverage Russia´s security demands, contributing to months of sharply higher energy prices.
In the short term, Europe is seeking extra gas from other nations, including Japan. The crisis may also hasten a switch to climate-friendly renewable energy that is already underway.
In the U.S., Biden is warning that gasoline prices could get higher if Putin chooses to invade.Inflation has become an albatross for Democrats going into the 2022 midterm elections, despite the nation´s strong economic growth last year.
The cost of crude oil – and gasoline- began to climb over the past month as Putin massed forces on the Ukrainian border.Forecasts from JPMorgan and other investment firms suggest that crude oil – already at about $95 a barrel – could exceed $125 a barrel due to tight supplies, which an intensify.
U.S. climate envoy John Kerry will underscore the connection between climate efforts and global security at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, where he is scheduled to speak Friday.U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also is expected to attend the security event.
WHAT ABOUT CYBERATTACKS?
Disruption continued from a cyberattack that knocked out the websites of the Ukrainian army, the defense ministry and major banks in Ukraine on Tuesday.Ukrainian officials say they are investigating the origin of the distributed-denial-of-service attacks. Russia has denied involvement.
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities issued a warning that hackers backed by the Russian state have waged a long-running campaign to get classified material from private contractors working for the Pentagon.
The warning issued jointly by the Department of Homeland Security´s cyber unit, the FBI and National Security Agency said the hackers, using “common but effective tactics,” have been targeting defense contractors since at least January 2020 and will likely continue to do so.
U.S.authorities said the intrusions “enabled the actors to acquire sensitive, unclassified information, as well as CDC-proprietary and export-controlled technology,” but did not identify any of the victimized companies.
WHAT IS THE MOOD IN UKRAINE?
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared Wednesday a “day of national unity.” He called on citizens to display the blue-and-yellow national flag and to sing the national anthem in the face of “hybrid threats.” To mark the day, demonstrators unfolded a 200-meter (656-foot) national flag at a sports arena in Kyiv.
“Russia will not leave us in peace, that´s why we have to be always ready for it,” Yuri Maistrenko, 52, a scientist in Kyiv, said.”It did not start today, but it could tomorrow or after a month.”
WHAT IS HAPPENING IN RUSSIA?
Putin, who has had tense meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany´s Scholz in recent days, was all smiles Wednesday when he met authoritarian Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro in Moscow.
Russian lawmakers, meanwhile, have urged Putin to recognize as independent states the rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine where Russia has supported rebels in a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people since 2014.Putin signaled that he wasn´t inclined to back the motion, which would effectively shatter a 2015 peace deal.
Blinken said if Putin did approve the appeal, it would be “a gross violation of international law” and bring “a swift and firm response” from the U.S.and its allies.
WHAT’S THE IMPACT FURTHER AFIELD?
The crisis is causing ripples in the skies and the seas.
Ukraine International Airlines said it has sent some of its passenger planes to Spain “for safe keeping.” The airline said it took the decision under pressure from insurance companies “due to the foreign policy situation.”
The airport at Castellón in eastern Spain said five planes had arrived, with a sixth expected.
The Ukrainian airline continues to operate to and from the country with a reduced fleet.
The Cockpit union, which represents pilots in Germany, called for planes to avoid flying over “regions of tension” in eastern Ukraine.
In 2014, 298 people aboard a Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed when the Boeing 777 was brought down by a missile over rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
Norwegian fishermen, meanwhile, were upset over a three-day Russian naval drill in the Arctic that started Wednesday.Fishing boats are being warned from a zone about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) long north of Norway – a situation Sturla Roald of the Norwegian Fishing Vessel Owners Association called “totally unsustainable.”
Associated Press Writers Vladimir Isachenkov a in Moscow, Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sylvie Corbet in Paris, Lorne Cook and Raf Casert in Brussels, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Joseph Wilson in Barcelona and Ellen Knickmeyer and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow all AP stories on tensions over Ukraine at website
A view of Ukraine’s national flag waves above the capital with the Motherland Monument on the right, in Kyiv Sunday, Feb.13, 2022. Some airlines have halted or diverted flights to Ukraine amid heightened fears that an invasion by Russia is imminent despite intensive weekend talks between the Kremlin and the West. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
In this handout photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy listens to Ukrainian national anthem as he takes part in celebration of the Day of the Unit at an international airport outside Kyiv, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022, prior to his trip to Rivne and Donetsk regions. Ukrainian President ordered to held the Day of the Unity with solemn ceremonies across the country. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
People hold Ukrainian flags as they gather to celebrate a Day of Unity in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022. If you have any type of questions relating to where and ways to use Lawyer Turkey, you could call us at our own web site. As Western officials warned a Russian invasion could happen as early as today, the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called for a Day of Unity, with Ukrainians encouraged to raise Ukrainian flags across the country. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)
Secretary for Defense Lloyd J. Austin III speaks during a press statement prior to a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. NATO defense ministers are meeting to discuss Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine as it fuels one of Europe’s biggest security crises in decades.
(Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)
Secretary for Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, left, speaks during a joint press statement with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prior to a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. NATO defense ministers are meeting to discuss Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine as it fuels one of Europe’s biggest security crises in decades.
(Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin, second right, and Lawyer Turkey Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, second left, talk to each other during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022, a Russian navy’s team at work during naval exercises in the Mediterranean. Russia’s naval drills in the Mediterranean come amid the tensions with the West over Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022, a Russian serviceman fires from his weapon during naval exercises at a military base in Syria. Russia’s naval drills in the Mediterranean come amid tensions with the West over Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
In this photo taken from video provided by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022, The Russian navy’s destroyer Admiral Tributs is seen from a military helicopter during a naval exercises in the Mediterranean . Russia’s naval drills in the Mediterranean come amid tensions with the West over Ukraine. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers her speech at the European Parliament, Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022 in Strasbourg. EU leaders Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen address the dire conditions in Ukraine and the diplomatic chances to avert a Russian invasion during the plenary debate at the European Parliament. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the East Room of the White House, Tuesday, Feb.15, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, left, arrives with his delegation for a meeting of NATO defense ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022. NATO defense ministers are meeting to discuss Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine as it fuels one of Europe’s biggest security crises in decades. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
FILE – A Ukrainian serviceman carries an NLAW anti-tank weapon during an exercise in the Joint Forces Operation, Lawyer Turkey in the Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Feb.15, 2022. As the U.S. and other NATO members warn of the potential for a devastating war, Russia is not countering with bombs or olive branches — but with sarcasm. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda, File)
A child walks under a large Ukrainian flag carried by people marking a “day of unity” in Sievierodonetsk, the Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb.
16, 2022. Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he welcomed a security dialogue with the West, and his military reported pulling back some of its troops near Ukraine, while U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. had not verified Russia’s claim and that an invasion was still a distinct possibility.
(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
The Assumption or Dormition Cathedral, the main Orthodox church of Kharkov, stands out in the center of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Wednesday, Feb.
16, 2022, just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from some of the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed at the border of Ukraine, feels particularly perilous. As Western officials warned a Russian invasion could happen as early as today, the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called for a Day of Unity, with Ukrainians encouraged to raise Ukrainian flags across the country.
(AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
Ukrainian Army soldiers pose for a photo as they gather to celebrate a Day of Unity in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Feb.16, 2022. As Western officials warned a Russian invasion could happen as early as today, the Ukrainian President Zelenskyy called for a Day of Unity, with Ukrainians encouraged to raise Ukrainian flags across the country. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)