KYIV, Ukraine — With the Pentagon warning of continued Russian troop buildups and a possible imminent invasion of Ukraine, that country’s leader on Friday warned against talking about war, even as a diplomatic scramble to ease the impasse continued with no sign of a breakthrough. .
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the security situation surrounding his country – where intelligence officials estimate 130,000 Russian troops have massed near the borders, including north of the capital, Kyiv – was not much different from that of last year around the same time and, while dangerous, did not necessarily mean that war was imminent or inevitable.
A day after speaking by telephone with President Biden, who reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to respond forcefully to a Russian attack, Mr. Zelensky emphasized at a press conference that he and the President Americans did not disagree on the seriousness of the Russian threat, but differed in the tone of their public comments on it.
He noted that in the past, Russia had used military buildup as a scare tactic.
“We have no misunderstandings with the president, but I deeply understand what is happening in my country, just as he understands what is happening in his country,” Mr. Zelensky said of Mr. Biden. The drumbeats of war, he added, could contribute to domestic instability and economic turmoil that would increase the risk posed by Russia.
Mr Zelensky has challenged decisions by the United States and Britain to withdraw non-essential diplomatic personnel from Ukraine, which he says sets an unduly alarming tone. “I think it was a mistake,” he said, adding that “in these circumstances everyone is essential.”
“I don’t think we have the Titanic here,” he said.
The United States has been more outspoken than many European countries about the threat of a Russian attack, even as the Biden administration has tried to project a unified front with NATO allies.
The Pentagon said that in the past 24 hours more Russian forces had been moved into the area. Although US officials do not believe Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has decided to launch an invasion, President Biden still believes there is “a distinct possibility” that Russia could do so in February Emily Horne, door -spokesman of the National Security Council, said Thursday.
It is this kind of delay that Mr. Zelensky has most strongly rejected.
“We have to be very careful how we speak every day, every minute, when we try to say war will happen tomorrow,” Mr Zelensky said. “We are preparing for any scenario and we have several,” he said.
“I think it has to be silent military preparation and silent diplomacy,” he added.
“It’s not like we’re acting like it’s the highest threat level,” he said. The mere fact that tens of thousands of Russian troops were on the border was itself a risk, with the danger of a mistake or provocation spiraling out of control.
As Ukrainian soldiers dug trenches along the snow-covered eastern front, children sledding in the capital, Kyiv. Most people were going about their daily business.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by videoconference Friday with Mr Putin, and despite Mr Macron’s plea for a somewhat conciliatory approach to Moscow, the Kremlin said in a statement afterwards that “the main concerns of Russia have not been dealt with”.
Still, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov has signaled there could be a window for negotiation with the United States on limited security issues in Europe, including missile deployments and military exercises. . Speaking in a Russian radio interview on Friday, Lavrov said Washington’s written response this week to requests for Russian security guarantees contained “a kernel of rationality” on some issues.
Asked what he thinks of Mr. Putin’s intentions, Mr. Zelensky replied that the actions of the Russians speak for themselves.
“Why do you need so many soldiers?” Why do you need so many exercises so often? ” He asked. “It is indeed dangerous.”
The Russian actions are a form of “sado-masochism”, he said. “It’s just brutal cynicism.”
Russia demanded a withdrawal of NATO forces from Eastern Europe, allowing Moscow to reassert a sphere of influence resembling the one it had until the 1990s. United States and its Western allies.
Western officials say Russia’s often contradictory public statements do not square with the actions it has taken to threaten Ukraine.
The United States and NATO allies have placed troops on high alert and stepped up arms deliveries to Ukraine, but Mr. Biden, who has not spoken to Mr. Putin for a A tense “virtual summit” in early December said he did not plan to send more US troops to Ukraine.
The Biden administration convened a meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Monday, which could lead to a face-to-face debate on Ukraine between the United States and Russia.
Michael Schwirtz reported from Kiev, Andrew E. Kramer from Kramatorsk, Ukraine and Bengali Shashankand Marc Santora from London.