Global diplomacy is working overtime to avert Russia-NATO conflict over Ukraine


“We sent troops to Europe to defend NATO territory,” said US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan


As war clouds gather over Ukraine, international diplomacy is in full swing on Monday, when French and Russian presidents meet in Moscow and German Chancellor heads to the White House to meet with US leader Joe Biden.

Also on Monday, the German, Czech, Slovak and Austrian foreign ministers were expected in Kiev, downplaying dire US warnings that Moscow was stepping up preparations for a major invasion of Ukraine.

US officials said the Kremlin had rallied 110,000 troops along the border with its pro-Western neighbor, but intelligence assessments have not determined whether President Vladimir Putin actually decided to invade.

They said Russia was on track to have a large enough force — about 150,000 troops — for a full-scale invasion by mid-February.

Such a force would be able to take the capital Kiev within 48 hours in an attack that would kill up to 50,000 civilians, 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 10,000 Russian soldiers and trigger a flood of refugees of up to five million people, mostly to Poland, added the officials.

In addition to the potential human cost, Ukraine fears further damage to its already struggling economy.

And if Moscow attacks Ukraine, it could face retaliation over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which aims to double supplies of natural gas from Russia to Germany, with Berlin threatening to block it.

Russia is demanding a guarantee from NATO that Ukraine will not join the alliance and wants the bloc to withdraw troops from member states in Eastern Europe.

“Apocalyptic Predictions”

Moscow denies that it plans to invade Ukraine, and Kiev’s Council President said the chances of a diplomatic solution to the crisis are “significantly higher than the risk of further escalation”.

Taking to Twitter, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tried to calm tensions by saying: “Don’t believe the apocalyptic predictions. Different capitals have different scenarios, but Ukraine is ready for any development.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, who currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, will be in Moscow on Monday and Kiev on Tuesday to lead efforts to de-escalate the crisis.

He is expected to push ahead with a stalled peace plan for the simmering conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The trip will be a political gamble for Macron, who faces re-election in April.

Also on Monday, Chancellor Olaf Scholz will meet with Biden in Washington.

Biden has responded to Russia’s troop buildup by offering 3,000 American forces to bolster NATO’s eastern flank, with a group of the promised troops arriving in Poland on Sunday.

But US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told Fox News Sunday that Biden is “not sending forces to start a war or fight a war with Russia in Ukraine.”

“We sent troops to Europe to defend NATO territory,” he said.

Scholz said on Sunday that Berlin is ready to send additional troops to the Baltics in addition to the 500 soldiers already stationed in Lithuania as part of a NATO operation.

While he is in Washington, his Secretary of State, Annalena Baerbock, will be in Kiev for a two-day visit along with her Czech, Slovak and Austrian counterparts.

Scholtz will be in Moscow and Kiev next week for talks with Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and was published by a syndicated feed.)

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