Kyiv has urged the West to remain “vigilant and firm” in its talks with Moscow, a day after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy warned his Western partners to avoid stirring “panic” over the massive Russian troop buildup at the border.
In the latest flurry of diplomatic manoeuvres, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba had a conversation with his French counterpart Yves Le Drian on Saturday.
The talks underlined the need to “refrain from steps that could fuel anxiety” in Ukrainian society and “undermine the financial stability” of the post-Soviet country, a Ukrainian statement said.
France said it was planning to send hundreds of troops to eastern NATO ally Romania as part of a deployment first touted by President Emmanuel Macron earlier this month.
Le Drian is expected to visit Ukraine together with his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock on February 7-8, while Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is due in Kyiv on Tuesday to meet the president and the prime minister.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin before heading to the region and add to the chorus of Western leaders urging him to back down.
Russian naval exercises off Ireland
Meanwhile, Moscow’s ambassador to Ireland said his country will not conduct naval exercises in international waters in the Irish Sea next week following a request from the Irish government to relocate the operation.
Ireland was notified last week that the exercises would take place about 240km (149 miles) off the southwest coast within its exclusive economic zone but not its territorial waters, meaning it was permitted under international law.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the plans were not welcome, particularly at a time when the United States and other Western allies fear Russia could be preparing to invade Ukraine after amassing more than 100,000 soldiers near its borders.
Russia, which denies it is planning an invasion of its neighbour, decided to relocate the naval exercises as a “gesture of goodwill” to Dublin and Irish fishing groups, Ambassador Yury Filatov said in a statement.
Coveney said on Twitter that he welcomed the response.
This week I wrote to my counterpart, the Minister of Defence of Russia, to request a reconsideration of naval exercises off the Irish coast. This evening I received a letter confirming the Russian exercises will be relocated outside of Ireland’s EEZ. I welcome this response.
— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) January 29, 2022
‘No offensive plans’
As well as troops, Russia has amassed equipment and support forces along its frontier with Ukraine and more recently in Belarus, which borders Ukraine on the north.
Western officials say Russia has also mustered more air and sea assets in the region, creating a complex threat like none seen since the Cold War.
Moscow has demanded wide-ranging security guarantees, including that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.
The West has rejected Russia’s key demands such as stopping new members from joining the alliance, but has laid down a raft of areas where it sees room to negotiate with the Kremlin.
In a telephone conversation with Macron, Putin made clear that the written responses from the West to his demands this week had fallen short of Russia’s expectations.
“The US and NATO responses did not take into account Russia’s fundamental concerns, including preventing NATO’s expansion,” Putin said, according to the Kremlin’s readout of the call.
He added that the West had ignored the “key question”, that no country should strengthen its security at the expense of others, adding Russia would “carefully study” the responses, “after which it will decide on further actions”.
According to a Macron aide, Putin told the French leader in a call lasting more than an hour that he had “no offensive plans”.
In Washington, Biden nevertheless said he would soon send a small number of US troops to bolster the NATO presence in Eastern Europe as tensions remain heightened.
The US already has tens of thousands of troops stationed across mostly Western Europe.
Ukraine has turned increasingly to the West since Moscow seized the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and began fuelling a separatist conflict in the east of the country that has cost more than 13,000 lives.
In the face of Russia’s latest buildup, some Western allies – led by the US – have stepped up deliveries of arms to Kyiv that could be used to ward off an attack.
On Friday, Ukrainian soldiers dressed in winter camouflage at a snowbound range in the far west of the country test-fired new “tank killer” missiles sent by Britain.