US backtracks on talk of Russian invasion
US officials appear to have backtracked on claims that Moscow could be on the verge of ordering an invasion of neighboring Ukraine, while warning that the risk of escalation remains high.
Speaking to reporters at a press briefing on Monday, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said that “obviously we’re mindful of things that the Russians could do that would potentially give us indications of some sort of imminent incursion.” However, he went on, “we’re not there yet, but we are watching for those indicators very, very closely.”
At the same time, the official reiterated Washington’s assertions that Russia is seeking to “threaten its neighbor further and potentially violate further Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”
“It’s very clear that the Russians have no intention right now of de-escalating,” Kirby went on, adding that Washington wants to deter Moscow from attacking.
The Pentagon has placed around 8,500 troops on higher alert on Monday in response to the tensions in Eastern Europe, while NATO simultaneously announced that it had put more forces on standby and sent additional ships and jet fighters to the region.
The US, UK, and Australian embassies in Kiev were advised to evacuate non-essential staff and family members over the weekend as NATO continues to accuse Russia of gearing up to invade its neighbor. Moscow has repeatedly denied planning to attack Ukraine, with the Kremlin insisting that it forces are no threat.
Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Alexey Danilov also appeared to downplay the risk of a larger conflict earlier this week. “As of today, we don’t see any grounds for statements about a full-scale offensive on our territory. It’s even physically impossible,” he said on Monday. Danilov added that Kiev was tracking the movement of Russian forces. “Maybe, [seeing Russian troops] is an oddity to our foreign partners who finally saw that there are Russian forces and they move a certain way,” Danilov said.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky echoed a similar message in a televised address, urging the public not to panic.
The comments come after US President Joe Biden warned during a press conference last week that Russian President Vladimir Putin could “move in,” adding that “he has to do something.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hit back at the claims, saying Russian forces have never threatened Ukraine.
Moscow held separate talks with the US, NATO, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) earlier this month, and Lavrov met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Geneva, Switzerland last week, all without a tangible result.
Moscow has branded Western military infrastructure along its borders as a threat and is seeking legally binding assurances that NATO will not expand further eastward. The US-led bloc, meanwhile, has refused to abandon its open-door policy of accepting new member states, potentially including Ukraine.