The demonstration of Ukrainian firepower and rhetoric contrasted with images on Russian state media that were said to show Moscowâs forces bringing an end to a major exercise in occupied Crimea
KYIV – Ukraineâs leader vowed Wednesday (16 Feb) that his country would stand tall against any invasion, as both he and Nato warned they could see no sign that Russia is withdrawing its forces, AFP reported.
President Volodymyr Zelensky watched troops training with some of their new Western-supplied anti-tank weapons on a range near Rivne, west of the capital Kyiv.
Then he travelled to the frontline port city of Mariupol and gave a speech to mark what he had declared Ukraineâs âDay of Unityâ, wearing a military-style olive green coat and vowing resistance.
âWe are not afraid of forecasts, we are not afraid of anyone, of any enemies,â Zelensky said. âWe will defend ourselves.â
The demonstration of Ukrainian firepower and rhetoric contrasted with images on Russian state media that were said to show Moscowâs forces bringing an end to a major exercise in occupied Crimea.
But Zelensky denied that this was a sign of a Russian pullback.
âWe are seeing small rotations. I would not call these rotations the withdrawal of forces by Russia. We cannot say that,â he said in televised comments, adding: âWe see no change.â
In Rivne, missiles pounded targets and armoured vehicles manoeuvred and fired on the yellowing moorland, while in Kyiv hundreds of civilians marched in a stadium with an enormous national banner.
The âDay of Unityâ displays came as the Kremlin called for âserious negotiationsâ with Washington, and European leaders pushed hard for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis.
âNew Normal InÂ Europeâ
But Nato chief Jens Stoltenberg, who hosted a meeting of the allianceâs defence ministers in Brussels, dismissed suggestions that the threat on the border had diminished.
He said the alliance would shore up its eastern defences with forward deployments in member states bordering Ukraine.
âMoscow has made it clear that it is prepared to contest the fundamental principles that have underpinned our security for decades and to do so by using force,â he said.
âI regret to say that this is the new normal in Europe.â
And on reported Russian troop movements, he said: âSo far we do not see any sign of de-escalation on the ground; no withdrawals of troops or equipment.
âRussia maintains a massive invasion force ready to attack with high-end capabilities from Crimea to Belarus.â
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed, saying there was âcurrently little evidence of Russia disengagingâ from its military build-up.
Johnson and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres agreed during a call on Wednesday that any Russian invasion would have âcatastrophic and far-reaching consequences,â Downing Street said.
US Navy Aircraft Intercepted Â
Russiaâs huge build-up of troops, missiles and warships around Ukraine is being billed as Europeâs worst security crisis since the Cold War.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded Ukraine be forbidden from pursuing its ambition to join Nato and wants to redraw the security map of eastern Europe, rolling back Western influence.
But, backed by a threat of crippling US and EU economic sanctions, Western leaders are pushing for a negotiated settlement, and Moscow has signalled it will start to pull forces back.
In the latest such move, on Wednesday the Russian defence ministry said military drills in Crimea â a Ukrainian region that Moscow annexed in 2014 â had ended and that troops were returning to their garrisons.
Washington has demanded more verifiable evidence of de-escalation, but US President Joe Biden has nevertheless vowed to push for a diplomatic solution.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov welcomed this, telling reporters: âIt is positive that the US president is also noting his readiness to start serious negotiations.â
Meanwhile, the Pentagon said that three US NavyÂ aircraft were intercepted by Russian planes in an âunprofessionalâ manner over the Mediterranean Sea last weekend.
âWhile no one was hurt, interactions such as these could result in miscalculations and mistakes that lead to more dangerous outcomes,â US Navy Captain Mike Kafka said.
US Slams Invasion âPretextâ Â
The US State Department said Russia was attempting to create a âpretextâ for invading with unsupported claims of âgenocideâ and mass graves in Ukraineâs eastern Donbass region, which is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.
âOver the past several weeks, weâve also seen Russian officials and Russian media plant numerous stories in the press, any one of which could be elevated to serve as a pretext for an invasion,â State Department Spokesman Ned Price said.
EU leaders, already gathered in Brussels for a summit with their African counterparts, are now to hold impromptu crisis talks on Russia and Ukraine on Thursday.
A UN Security Council meeting on Thursday is also set to discuss the crisis.
On Tuesday, Ukraine said the websites of the countryâs defence ministry and armed forces as well as private banks had been hit by a cyberattack of the kind that US intelligence fears would precede a Russian attack.
âIt cannot be excluded that the aggressor is resorting to dirty tricks,â Ukraineâs communications watchdog said, in reference to Russia.
Peskov denied that Moscow had any role in the cyber assault.
âWe do not know anything. As expected, Ukraine continues blaming Russia for everything,â he said.