Berliner Boersenzeitung - Ukraine plays down Russian invasion risk as US sounds warning

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Ukraine plays down Russian invasion risk as US sounds warning
Ukraine plays down Russian invasion risk as US sounds warning

Ukraine plays down Russian invasion risk as US sounds warning

Ukraine's presidency on Sunday insisted the chance of resolving soaring tensions with Russia through diplomacy remained greater than that of an attack, after the US warned Moscow had stepped up preparations for an invasion.

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US officials said the Kremlin has assembled 110,000 troops along the border with its pro-Western neighbour but intelligence assessments have not determined if President Vladimir Putin has actually decided to invade.

Officials briefed Congress and European allies in recent days that the Russian force amassed on the frontier is growing at a rate that would give Putin the firepower he needs for a full-scale invasion -- some 150,000 soldiers -- by mid-February.

They said Putin wants all possible options at his disposal: from a limited campaign in the pro-Russian Donbas region of Ukraine to a full-scale invasion.

Russia denies that it is planning an incursion into Ukraine.

Ukrainian presidency advisor Mikhailo Podolyak insisted that "the chance of finding a diplomatic solution for de-escalation is still substantially higher than the threat of further escalation".

Kyiv has consistently sought to play down fears of an imminent attack as it tries to avoid inflicting further harm on its struggling economy.

Podolyak said the latest Russian moves were "no surprise" as Moscow has sought to keep up "psychological pressure" on Kyiv by conducting large-scale troop rotations, manoeuvres and weapon deployments on a regular basis since massing forces at the border last spring.

"How long will such Russian activity last and for what purpose is it maintained? Only the Kremlin can know the exact answer to this question," he said.

"The task of both Ukraine and our partners is to be prepared for any scenario."

- European diplomatic push -

The stark warnings from the US -- part of a deliberate attempt from Washington to pre-empt any Russian actions -- come as Europe pushes to defuse the crisis.

French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to Moscow on Monday and Kyiv the day after for talks aimed at de-escalating the crisis and pushing forward a stalled peace plan for the festering conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will also visit the region for talks with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the following week in a bid to further the diplomatic efforts.

US officials said if Moscow does opt for a full-scale attack, the invading force could take the capital Kyiv and topple Zelensky in a matter of 48 hours.

They estimated such an attack would leave 25,000 to 50,000 civilians dead, along with 5,000 to 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 3,000 to 10,000 Russian ones.

It could also trigger a refugee flood of one to five million people, mainly into Poland, the officials added.

President Joe Biden has decided to send American forces to bolster NATO's eastern flank, with the first contingent of US soldiers arriving in Poland on Saturday.

The move angered Moscow, which has issued demands for NATO to stop its expansion and withdraw forces from member states in eastern Europe.

- Special forces, naval buildup -

US intelligence has concluded that Russia is continuing to muster a major military force on its border with Ukraine.

Two weeks ago, a total of 60 Russian army battalions were positioned to the north, east and south of Ukraine, particularly in the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed after an invasion in 2014.

But on Friday, there were 80 battalions and 14 more were en route from elsewhere in Russia, US officials said.

They added that some 1,500 Russian special forces soldiers known as Spetsnaz arrived along the Ukraine border a week ago.

Russia has also announced what it calls joint military manoeuvres with Belarus, where it has sent several battalions to the north of Kyiv and in the Brest region, not far from the border with Poland.

A major Russian naval force is also positioned in the Black Sea, equipped with five amphibious vessels that could be used to land troops on Ukraine's southern coast, the US officials said.

They added that another six amphibious craft were observed leaving the Barents Sea north of Russia, sailing past Britain and through the Strait of Gibraltar, apparently on their way to the Black Sea.

In other deployments, Russia has positioned fighter planes near Ukraine, as well as bombers, missile batteries and anti-aircraft batteries, US officials said.

(U.Gruber--BBZ)