President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Washington.
- Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday accused the West of overhyping the prospect of a Russian invasion.
- Western leaders and the media risked hurting Ukraine’s economy with “this panic,” he said.
- Kyiv and Washington have offered different assessments on the scale of threat posed by Russia at present.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Friday accused the West of threatening the health of the nation’s economy by causing “panic” over the threat of a Russian invasion.
“We don’t need this panic,” Zelensky said during a press conference in Kyiv, according to BBC News. “There are signals even from respected leaders of states, they just say that tomorrow there will be war. This is panic — how much does it cost for our state?”
Zelensky said the Western media’s portrayal of the situation gives the impression of “tanks in the streets of Kyiv.” He emphasized that part of Ukraine is already occupied by Russia, while contending that Russia poses a constant threat to his country that isn’t necessarily higher at present.
In 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine, but it is still internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory. Russia since that year has also supported rebels in a war against Ukraine in the eastern Donbass region.
In recent months, Russia has gathered roughly 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, prompting fears of yet another invasion.
Kyiv and Washington have offered different assessments over the scale of the threat posed by Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s border. The US in recent days has warned that Russia could invade Ukraine at any moment, which has clashed with Zelensky’s messaging and calls for calm.
When asked about a phone call between him and President Joe Biden that took place on Thursday, Zelensky said, “I’m the president of Ukraine, I’m based here and I think I know the details deeper than any other president.” The call was reportedly contentious, but Zelensky downplayed the notion that he and Biden are at odds.
“We don’t have any misunderstandings with President Biden. I just deeply understand what is going on in my country just as he understands perfectly well what’s going on in the United States,” Zelensky added, per CNN. “I’m not being critical of President Biden.”
Zelensky also said he thought it was a “mistake” for the US embassy in Kyiv to send home some non-essential staff and the family members of diplomats.
—Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) January 28, 2022
Russia claims it has no plans to invade, despite the massive force it’s gathered along Ukraine’s border.
“If it depends on Russia, then there will be no war. We don’t want wars. But we also won’t allow our interests to be rudely trampled, to be ignored,” Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, said on Friday.
The US has sought a diplomatic resolution to the situation, which has so far failed to yield any major breakthroughs. Russia has made demands for binding security guarantees from the West, including prohibiting Ukraine and Georgia from ever joining NATO. The alliance and the US have been firm that NATO’s open-door policy remains non-negotiable.
NATO and the US both delivered written responses to Russia’s demands this week, which remain confidential. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that no concessions were made regarding Russia’s demand on barring Ukraine and Georgia from the alliance.
Russia has since complained that the US and NATO did not address its fundamental concerns, but all sides are seemingly open to continuing diplomatic discussions.
Russia will “carefully study the written responses to the draft agreements on security guarantees received from the United States and NATO on January 26, after which it would decide on further action,” the Kremlin said on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon urged Russia against pursuing an invasion of Ukraine.
“Conflict is not inevitable. There is still time and space for diplomacy. The US in lockstep with our allies and partners has offered Russia a path away from crisis and toward greater security,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said at a Friday press conference.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also warned that a Russian invasion would be “horrific” and lead to a “significant amount of casualties,” per CNN.
Though Biden has ruled out a military response on the ground in Ukraine if Russia invades, the US has placed 8,500 troops on heightened alert for a potential deployment to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe.