Ukraine’s leaders have tried to reassure the nation that a feared invasion from neighboring Russia was not imminent, even as they acknowledged the threat of invasion was real.
Ukraine’s president has said the situation is “under control”.
The country’s defense minister said that Russia’s armed forces did not form “battle groups”.
He added that future “risky scenarios” were “likely and probable”, but that “no such threat exists” at present.
Moscow has denied planning the attack, but has gathered an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine, prompting the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to prepare for potential war.
Several rounds of high-stakes diplomacy have failed to yield any breakthrough and tensions escalated this week.
NATO said it was increasing its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region and the US ordered 8,500 troops on high alert to potentially deploy to Europe as part of a coalition “reaction force” if needed.
The Kremlin said Washington’s actions and statements around Ukraine were increasing tensions and Russia was watching with “great concern” the decision to put troops on alert.
Russia has begun conducting war preparedness inspections in its southern military district, which borders Ukraine, which contains more than 6,000 soldiers, the RIA news agency quoted Russia’s military as saying on Tuesday.
The US State Department has ordered the families of all US personnel at the US embassy in Kiev to leave the country, adding that non-essential embassy staff can leave. Britain and Australia have also said they are withdrawing some diplomats and dependents, with Canberra urging Australians to leave.
In Ukraine, however, officials have tried to remain calm.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Monday local time that the situation was “under control” and there was “no reason to panic”.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksey Reznikov said that, as of Monday, Russia’s armed forces had not formed battle groups, “which would indicate that they would launch an offensive tomorrow”.
“There are risky scenarios. They are possible and likely in the future,” Mr. Reznikov told Ukraine’s ICTV channel.
“But to date … no such threat exists.”
Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council secretary, Oleksiy Danilov, echoed that sentiment, saying that the movement of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border was “not news”.
“To this day, we do not see any basis for statements about a full-scale attack on our country,” Danilov said on Monday.
Russia has said that Western allegations that it is planning an offensive are only a cover for its planned provocation of NATO.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday once again accused the US of “instigating tensions” around Ukraine, a former Soviet state that Russia has been locked in a bitter tug of war for nearly eight years.
In 2014, after ousting the Kremlin-friendly president in Ukraine, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country’s industrial sector in the east.
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels has since killed more than 14,000 people and stalled efforts to reach a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
In the latest standoff, Russia has demanded guarantees from the West that NATO will never allow Ukraine to join and the coalition will reduce other tasks, such as deploying troops to former Soviet bloc countries.
Some of this, such as any pledge to permanently impose sanctions on Ukraine, is a non-start for NATO – creating a seemingly insurmountable standoff that many fear may only end in war.
Mr Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin would speak with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron this week, who also plans to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Russia awaits a written response from the US this week on its list of security demands.
Mr Peskov said the US military’s warning did not affect the talks as the current phase of talks had been completed.
A shipment, including equipment and munitions, is also expected to reach Ukraine on Tuesday, as part of a new $200 million ($280 million) in security aid directed to Ukraine from the US.
The US moves are in line with actions taken by other NATO member governments to strengthen a defensive presence in Eastern Europe.
For example, Denmark is sending a warship and an F-16 warplane to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces, and France is set to send troops to Romania.
abc / wire