Ukraine’s leaders have sought to reassure the nation that an invasion by neighbouring Russia is not imminent, even as they acknowledged the threat is real and prepared to accept a shipment of US military equipment to shore up their defences.
Moscow has denied planning an assault, but has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine in recent weeks, leading the US and its Nato allies to prepare for a possible war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said late on Monday that the situation is “under control” and there is “no reason to panic”.
Several rounds of high stakes diplomacy have failed to yield any breakthroughs, and this week tensions escalated further.
Nato said it was bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea region, and the US ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert to potentially deploy to Europe as part of an alliance “response force” if necessary.
The State Department has ordered the families of all American personnel at the US Embassy in Kyiv to leave the country, and said non-essential embassy staff could leave. The UK is also withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its embassy.
Ukrainian defence minister Oleksii Reznikov said that, as of Monday, Russia’s armed forces had not formed what he called battle groups, “which would have indicated that tomorrow they would launch an offensive”.
“There are risky scenarios. They’re possible and probable in the future,” he told Ukraine’s ICTV channel on Monday. “But as of today… such a threat doesn’t exist.”
Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, echoed that sentiment, saying the movement of Russian troops near Ukraine’s border “is not news”.
“As of today, we don’t see any grounds for statements about a full-scale offensive on our country,” he said on Monday.
Russia has said Western accusations that it is planning an invasion are a cover for Nato’s planned provocations.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday again accused the US of “fomenting tensions” around Ukraine, a former Soviet state which has been locked in a bitter tug-of-war with Russia for almost eight years.
In 2014, following the removal of a Kremlin-friendly president in Ukraine, Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in the country’s industrial heartland in the east.
The fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed rebels has since killed more than 14,000 people, and efforts to reach a peaceful settlement have stalled.
In the latest standoff, Russia has demanded guarantees from the West that Nato would never allow Ukraine to join and that the alliance would curtail other actions, such as stationing troops in former Soviet bloc countries.
Some of these, like any pledge to permanently bar Ukraine, are non-starters for Nato, creating a seemingly intractable stalemate that many fear can only end in war.
Putting the US-based troops on heightened alert for Europe on Monday suggested diminishing hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will back away from what US President Joe Biden has said looks like a threat to invade neighbouring Ukraine.
As part of a new 200 million dollars (£150 million) in security assistance directed to Ukraine from the US, a shipment including equipment and munitions is expected to arrive on Tuesday.
The US moves come in tandem with actions by other Nato member governments to bolster a defensive presence in eastern Europe.
Denmark is sending a frigate and F-16 warplanes to Lithuania, Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join Nato naval forces, and France stands ready to send troops to Romania.