Russia and Ukraine set for crucial crunch talks as war looms

Russia: Tensions with Ukraine explained

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According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, the Kremlin has ignored requests to explain the troop build-up along its neighbour’s border. As a result, Kiev is asking for a meeting within the next 48 hours for transparency about Russia’s plans.

Under the Vienna Document, of which Russia is party to, members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) can ask for information on others’ military activities.

Ukraine has made a request via the OSCE for Russia to share details of its build-up of more than 100,000 troops.

Mr Kuleba, who claims Russia ignored the demands, said: “If Russia is serious when it talks about the indivisibility of security in the OSCE space, it must fulfil its commitment to military transparency in order to de-escalate tensions and enhance security for all.”

Tensions over the crisis in Ukraine have mounted during the weekend, with UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace saying a Moscow attack on Kiev is “highly likely” and claiming the Kremlin’s military presence on the Ukrainian border has reached the capacity to “launch an offensive at any time”.

He told The Sunday Times: “It may be that he [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.”

US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, had a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he warned that attacking Kiev would “diminish Russia’s standing” and trigger “swift and severe” sanctions.

Mr Biden emphasised that the US “remains prepared to engage in diplomacy, in full coordination with our Allies and partners”, adding however that they were “equally prepared for other scenarios”.

Also French President Emmanuel Macron spoke with the Russian leader on Saturday.

Echoing Mr Biden, he stressed that the West would react with “determination” if Moscow took the conflict any further.

While the West ramped up its diplomatic efforts, with more than a dozen nations urging their citizens to leave Ukraine, the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, said he had seen no proof Russia was planning an invasion in the coming days.

He added: “The best friend of our enemies is panic in our country. And all this information is just provoking panic and can’t help us.

“I can’t agree or disagree with what hasn’t happened yet. So far, there is no full-scale war in Ukraine.”

Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to Britain, said the country was willing to be “flexible” over its goal to join NATO.

He told the BBC: “We might – especially being threatened like that, blackmailed by that, and pushed to it.”

Later, however, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said the “ambassador’s words were taken out of context” and “the prospect of joining NATO remains enshrined in the constitution”.

The ambassador backtracked, too, stressing Kiev was “ready for many concessions” in its negotiations with Russia “but it has nothing to do with NATO”.

A spokesman for President Zelenskiy claimed the nation’s NATO and EU membership aspirations remained an “unconditional priority” for Kiev.

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Those aspirations date back to 2019 when then-President Petro Poroshenko signed a constitutional amendment committing Ukraine to become a member of NATO and the European Union.

He said the country should “submit a request for EU membership and receive a NATO membership action plan no later than 2023”.

The relationship between Moscow and Kiev collapsed after the Kremlin seized annexed Crimea in 2014.

Moscow views the tightening ties between Ukraine and the West as a threat ever since, and thus demands security guarantees from NATO that it will never admit the country as a member of the Alliance.

Although NATO has in several instances expressed it has no intention to welcome the Eastern European nation any time soon, it refuses to make promises and to give into Mr Putin’s intimidation.

Last week, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg warned of the dangers of returning “to an age of spheres of influence, where the big powers can tell others what they can or cannot do”.

He added: “Russia has a choice: they can either choose a diplomatic solution — and we’re ready to sit down — but if they choose confrontation, they will pay a higher price.”

The G7 group of large Western economies — comprised of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US — has on Monday warned Russia of “economic and financial sanctions which will have massive and immediate consequences on the Russian economy” in case of an invasion.

Its members wrote in a joint statement: “The ongoing Russian military build-up at Ukraine’s borders is a cause for grave concern. We, the G7 Finance Ministers, underline our readiness to act swiftly and decisively to support the Ukrainian economy.

“Any further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine will be met with a swift, coordinated and forceful response.”

Moscow, meanwhile, denies any plans of an attack and justifies the massing of troops as part of military exercises.

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