UKRAINE and Germany have pushed back against assumptions by Washington about Russian intentions to invade the former Soviet state as tensions further escalated after US President Joe Biden warned that Russia could launch an attack ‘within days’.
In an address to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky once again censured the Biden administration for creating ‘panic’ with regard to the Russian troop buildup on the country’s border and its dire predictions that an alleged Russian invasion could be imminent.
‘We do not think that we need to panic,’ Zelensky told the annual conference attended by top-level officials and the world’s security experts in the German city.
Germany’s foreign minister also appeared to tone down the rhetoric by warning against attempts to ‘guess’ or ‘assume’ Russia’s decisions on Ukraine.
‘We do not know yet if an attack has been decided on,’ Annalena Baerbock said on the sidelines of the conference.
A day earlier, Biden had said that he was ‘convinced’ Russian President Vladimir Putin had ‘made the decision’ to attack Ukraine, raising fears that a major conflict could break out in Europe.
The White House also claimed that Russia could launch an attack on Ukraine ‘at any time’.
Biden repeated his claim last Friday that the US had intelligence showing Putin has made up his mind to invade Ukraine.
Western countries have in recent weeks accused Russia of preparing for an invasion of Ukraine by massing 150,000 troops and armaments near the border.
Russia has rejected the claim, saying the military build-up is defensive in nature.
In a major step to de-escalate, Moscow announced last week that some of the troops deployed in areas bordering Ukraine would return to their bases.
It also released footage showing tanks and armoured vehicles being loaded onto railway flatcars. The US and its NATO allies, however, have played down the move.
Putin has warned that the US is deliberately designing a scenario to lure Russia into a war over Ukraine.
The Kremlin has repeatedly said that the expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine constitutes a red line for Moscow and that any future expansion must exclude Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.
Amid escalating tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border, the United States and the European Union have said they believe Moscow is trying to create a pretext for an attack on Ukraine through false-flag operations and having proxy outlets put out false information.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price warned on Saturday: ‘We are seeing more evidence of Russian disinformation being used as a pretext for a potential Russian attack on Ukraine.’
Ukraine’s government troops and pro-Russia forces have over the past days accused each other of launching a huge new wave of attacks and repeated ceasefire violations in the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, collectively known as Donbas.
Russia has already voiced concern about the circumstances in eastern Ukraine, saying the situation looks potentially ‘very dangerous’.
Donetsk and Lugansk were turned into self-proclaimed republics by ethnic Russians in 2014. That led to a bloody conflict between the government forces and armed separatists.
Ukraine, as well as the European Union (EU) and the United States, claims Russia has a hand in the conflict that erupted in Donbass. Moscow denies the allegation. So far more than 14,000 people have been killed as a result.
The armed conflict began when a wave of protests in Ukraine overthrew a democratically-elected pro-Russia government and replaced it with a pro-West administration. The majority in the Donbas area refused to endorse the new administration.
The Kremlin is warning about ‘alarming’ situation in eastern Ukraine, as regional leaders call for evacuation of residents to Russia.
In a related development on Saturday, China’s foreign minister called on the West to respect Russia’s concerns over Ukraine and questioned if an eastward NATO expansion would guarantee peace.
‘Ukraine should be a bridge linking East and West, not a front line,’ Wang Yi told the Munich Security Conference on video-link.
‘All parties have the right to raise their concerns, while the reasonable concerns of Russia should also be respected and heeded.’
Russia has demanded legally binding guarantees from NATO that it will halt its eastward expansion and return to its 1997 borders.
It also demanded that the military alliance never admit Ukraine as a member. However, the Kremlin says Russia’s main security demands have not been taken into account by the US after Washington delivered written replies to Moscow.
Also on Saturday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said Havana views Washington’s accusations against Russia of an alleged invasion of Ukraine as ‘propaganda hysteria,’ and opposes the eastward expansion of NATO.
‘We strongly reject the media and propaganda hysteria triggered by the US government against Russia, and we firmly oppose NATO’s expansion towards the borders of that sister nation,’ he said in a Twitter post.
The Kremlin has already rejected the US claims of a Russian invasion as ‘empty and unfounded’ and said they serve as a ploy to escalate tensions, stressing that Russia does not pose any threat whatsoever to anyone.
- More than 200 Iranian lawmakers have called on the incumbent administration not back down from its red lines and national interests in the course of negotiations with representatives from the remaining parties to the 2015 JCPOA nuclear accord in the Austrian capital city of Vienna on the removal of sanctions against Tehran.
The legislators said in a joint statement on Sunday that the US government and the three European countries of Britain, France and Germany have failed to honour any of their commitments over the past eight years, have employed any means possible to harm the interests of the Iranian nation, and included medical items, including medicines, in anti-Iranian sanctions.
‘Accordingly, we must learn from the past and set the Iranian nation’s interest as a red line, and do not commit ourselves to any agreement unless necessary guarantees have been received,’ the statement read.
The legislators also stressed that Washington and its European allies must provide guarantees that they will neither pull out of Iran deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) again, nor will they trigger the so-called ‘snapback mechanism’ to reimpose sanctions on Iran.
The statement went on to highlight that the US and the European countries must also remove all sanctions, such as ISA and CATSA, that have enforced against Iran on various pretexts, like nuclear activities, missiles development and human rights.
‘The United States and other UN Security Council members must firstly live up to their commitment of sanctions removal, and Iran must go ahead and fulfil its commitments after the former’s actions have been verified,’ the parliamentarians pointed out.
The lawmakers stated that Tehran, under Article 7 of the Iranian Parliament’s Strategic Action Plan to Counter Sanctions, would reverse the reduction of its nuclear compliance once the Western side lifts sanctions, especially on oil and banking sectors, and allow unimpeded flow of exports cash.
The United States walked out of the JCPOA in 2018 and began to implement what it called the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign of sanctions against the Islamic Republic, depriving the country of the economic benefits already signed up to in the agreement, including the removal of sanctions, for which Iran had agreed to certain caps on its nuclear activities.
In the meantime, the other parties to the deal, in particular France, Britain and Germany, only paid lip service to safeguarding Iran’s economic dividends as promised under the JCPOA, prompting Iran – after an entire year of ‘strategic patience’ – to reduce its nuclear obligations in a legal move under the deal.
The Vienna talks began last April on the assumption that the US, under the Joe Biden administration, was willing to repeal the so-called ‘maximum pressure’ policy pursued by former President Donald Trump.
Tehran says it will not settle for anything less than the removal of all US sanctions in a verifiable manner. It also wants guarantees that Washington would not abandon the agreement again.