President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin engaged in an hour-long phone call Saturday, February 12, in an attempt to ease tensions over Russian military aggression with its neighbor, Ukraine. While both had stated in previous reports that a diplomatic solution was possible, the call allegedly failed to ease tensions as no changes between the countries’ stances have changed.
During the diplomatic phone call, Biden had made it clear that there would be severe costs on Russia if it proceeds to invade Ukraine.
“President Biden was clear that, if Russia undertakes a further invasion of Ukraine, the United States together with our Allies and partners will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia,” said the White House in a press release.
A few days ago, SOFREP reported a statement made by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan that the Russian threat of invasion was “immediate” (which seems to be the same as when it was being called “imminent”)and recommended that all Americans living in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible within 24 to 48 hours. This statement came after US intelligence reports stated that a Russian invasion of Ukraine might start on February 16.
Since then, the United States Embassy in Kyiv has started its evacuation procedures, citing security concerns. However, a limited number of staff members would stay behind for communication purposes. The State Department has also said that a small consular presence in Lviv, Ukraine, would be maintained to respond to emergencies. Lviv is located in the West end of Ukraine near Poland, a key NATO ally.
As a result of the United States’ intelligence reports, evacuation, and the aforementioned phone call between Biden and Putin, several countries have also urged their citizens to leave Ukraine, fearing an impending invasion. Countries such as Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Canada have since urged their citizens to move out of Ukraine as soon as possible, with some following suit to evacuate their respective embassies and transfer them to Lviv. Furthermore, Dutch airline KLM has stopped operations and flights to and from Ukraine due to tensions, with Germany’s Lufthansa also considering suspension.
While the US seems to have its mind made up about Russia’s impending invasion, Ukrainian citizens seem to be calm about the crisis, with a majority believing that a diplomatic solution is possible. According to a report by BBC’s Zhanna Bezpiatchuk, no major signs of panic were seen in Ukraine’s capital or other major Ukrainian cities, for that matter. However, the citizens are well aware of the Russian threat. They have been living under these threats for many years, as demonstrated by a recent rally in Kyiv to show unity against Russia.
SOFREP has expressed its skepticism about a Russian invasion happening at any moment, expressing that no ultimatum has been made by Russia, the winter season being a terrible time to launch an invasion and the relatively low number of troops arrayed against a country of some 44 million people. Despite its 100,000 plus troops on or near the Ukraine-Russia border, they are in tents and their vehicles parked in neat rows and not in combat formation at their jumping-off points revving their tank engines. We would also expect to see numerous field hospitals in place along with large ammunition and fuel depots in place before an ‘imminent’ invasion were to take place.
This report aligns with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s belief that a Russian invasion may be possible but not imminent. He also has been on record stating that panicking about the situation will not help ease tensions and has repeatedly asked Western countries to stop stoking panic as it negatively affects their economy and he fears his citizens will leave their homes and move Westward.
“And now the best friend for enemies is panic in our country, and all this information that helps only for panic doesn’t help us,” said the Ukrainian leader. “That’s why I have to analyze all the information which we have. We have a lot of information because we are on these borders. It’s our borders. It’s our territory.”
Despite repeatedly stating that the country should not panic, the Ukrainian President also said that they have to be ready for all outcomes. “We have to be ready each day. It did not begin yesterday. It began in 2014, so we are ready, and this is why we are here,” said Zelensky. That being said, Ukraine has not mobilized reservists or moved its military formations to the border in mass to repel an invasion.
In response to the United States sternly warning Russia, the Kremlin accused the West of spreading disinformation about their intentions and spreading hysteria amidst the crisis. It also stated that the US had taken no substantial actions toward its demands, one being Ukraine’s non-membership in NATO being assured to the Kremlin.
Ratcheting up the pressure on NATO, Putin warned that Ukrainian membership to NATO could escalate into a military campaign to take control over Crimea, a Russian-annexed portion of Ukraine where the country backed its separatists in 2014.
Putin had called the intelligence report of the States regarding a potential Russian invasion as mere speculation and that the West and the United States are “drawing” them into an armed conflict.
“This can be done… by drawing us into some kind of armed conflict and, with the help of their allies in Europe, forcing the introduction against us of those harsh sanctions they are talking about now in the US,” said the Russian President last Tuesday in a press conference in Moscow.
The three leaders have expressed their willingness to pursue a diplomatic solution. However, both sides of the conflict remain highly suspicious of each other.. In fact, in a call between Biden and Zelensky, the two leaders discussed the United States’ role in supporting Ukraine in securing its sovereignty and territorial integrity and highlighted the importance of diplomacy. This did not come with any promises to increase military aid to Ukraine which would be an expected move in an imminent invasion scenario.
“The two leaders agreed on the importance of continuing to pursue diplomacy and deterrence in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,” said another White House statement dated February 13.
Furthermore, the White House statement regarding the call between Biden and Putin ended on a diplomatic note, “President Biden was clear with President Putin that while the United States remains prepared to engage in diplomacy, in full coordination with our Allies and partners, we are equally prepared for other scenarios.”
Which in the language of diplomacy means very little. The U.S. is always preparing for “other scenarios” when it comes to other countries.