On Monday, more NATO troops deployed to Eastern Europe, and several countries worked to evacuate their nationals and diplomats from Ukraine, as the German Chancellor launched a last-ditch effort to avert a feared Russian invasion, which some worry may happen within days. With the world already on high alert, British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey warned that a Russian attack might “essentially happen now with no notice.” This comes as US officials warned that an invasion may happen this week, prompting a frenzy of diplomacy as well as deterrence measures.
German Chancellor plans to visit Moscow
On Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Ukraine and planned to travel to Moscow to encourage Russian President Vladimir Putin to step down. Moscow denies any plans to invade, but it has amassed over 130,000 troops near Ukraine and, in the eyes of the US, has amassed enough weapons to launch an offensive at any time. As he landed in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, Mr. Scholz remarked on Twitter, “We are experiencing a very, very serious threat to peace in Europe.” “We desperately want de-escalation signals from Moscow.”
With fears that war is on the horizon, Germany’s military announced Monday that the first of 350 more troops it is sending to strengthen NATO forces in Lithuania is on its way. In addition, six howitzer weapons were being loaded onto trucks for transfer to the alliance’s eastern flank.
Meanwhile, Lithuania has evacuated diplomats’ families and some non-essential diplomatic personnel from Ukraine, while the US is preparing to evacuate the majority of its staff from its embassy in Kyiv. In addition, the Greek Foreign Ministry joined a number of Western countries in pushing Greek nationals to leave the country.
The maneuvers were the most recent in a series of preparations for a possible war. Some airlines canceled flights to Kyiv on Sunday, while troops there unloaded new weaponry supplies from NATO nations. Because of Russian naval drills, Ukraine’s air traffic safety service labeled the airspace over the Black Area a “zone of the potential hazard,” advising airlines to avoid flying over the sea from February 14 to 19.
The US and its NATO allies have frequently warned that any invasion by Russia will be costly, but they have struggled to portray a cohesive face at times. Mr. Scholz’s government has come under fire for refusing to supply Ukraine with lethal weaponry and for failing to specify which sanctions it would support against Russia, increasing doubts about Berlin’s willingness to stand up to Moscow.
Russia and Belarus doing Military Drill
NATO’s warnings appear to have had little impact so far as Russia has merely increased its military and armament levels in the region, as well as launching large drills in its ally Belarus, which borders Ukraine. The West is concerned that Moscow may use the drills, which will go until Sunday, as a pretext for an assault from the north. Russia has dismissed Ukrainian and Western worries over the military buildup, claiming the right to deploy forces wherever they are needed on Russian soil.
Moscow demands assurances from the West that NATO will not admit Ukraine or other former Soviet republics as members, and that the alliance will stop sending weaponry to Ukraine and withdraw its military from Eastern Europe. Those requests have been unequivocally rejected by the US and NATO.
Some analysts believe Moscow will finally accept a deal that will help avoid confrontations and save face for all parties involved. While NATO refuses to close the door on Ukraine, it also has no plans to embrace it or any other ex-Soviet country in the near future. To alleviate tensions, some academics have proposed a moratorium on NATO enlargement or a neutral status for Ukraine.
Vadym Prystaiko, Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, appeared to offer just such a course on Sunday, telling the BBC that the country could forego its goal of joining NATO, which is written into its constitution if it could avoid war with Russia. Ruslan Stefanchuk, the speaker of the Ukrainian parliament, also stated that there was no discussion of altering the constitutional section referring to NATO membership, and other MPs called for Mr. Prystaiko’s dismissal.