Europe

The UK’s Johnson refers to the Ukraine conflict as being at a “dangerous point.”

The Ukraine situation has become "the most perilous moment" for Europe in decades, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

The Ukraine situation has become “the most perilous moment” for Europe in decades, according to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, while his top diplomat held frigid talks with her Russian counterpart, who vowed the Kremlin will not tolerate lectures from the West.

In the midst of the impasse, Russian military conducted broad drills in Belarus, north of Ukraine, as part of a buildup of over 100,000 troops that has fuelled Western fears of an invasion.

NATO’s eastern flank has also seen increased military deployments, with the United States sending soldiers to Poland and Romania. A British Royal Air Force plane with 350 personnel landed in Poland on Thursday, after London’s deployment of anti-tank missiles in Ukraine.

“We’ve got to get it right,” Johnson said at NATO headquarters in Brussels. “This is perhaps the most perilous moment, I would say in the next few days, in what is the worst security crisis that Europe has faced in decades,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who subsequently travelled to Warsaw to speak with Poland’s prime minister, said he believes President Vladimir Putin has not yet chosen what he will do with Ukraine, and that the West must use “sanctions, military resolve, and diplomacy” to achieve this.

Before meeting with British soldiers in Poland, he remarked, “Poland and the United Kingdom would not allow a world in which a powerful neighbor may coerce or attack their neighbors.”

If the Russians want “less NATO on their western frontiers, as it were,” Johnson told a British channel, “this is exactly the wrong way to go about it.”

“We are on the cliff, and things are as terrible as I have seen in Europe in a very, very long time,” he said, adding that Putin must “disengage and de-escalate.”

Putin stated in a press conference in Moscow that Russia is continuing its negotiations with the US and its allies and is working on a response to Western security recommendations.

Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO Secretary-General, says he sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, reiterating an invitation to a series of meetings on boosting European security.

In Moscow, Lavrov spoke with UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who warned Russia that invading its neighbor would have “huge consequences and significant costs.” She encouraged the Kremlin to follow international agreements that oblige it to protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty and independence.

Lavrov dismissed Western concerns over Russia’s force buildup as “pure propaganda,” adding that Moscow will not tolerate lectures.

“Ideological approaches, ultimatums, and moralizing are a road to nowhere,” he said, noting that his meeting with Truss was the first between the two countries’ top diplomats in more than four years, as relations between the two countries have been strained by the 2018 poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England, as well as other tensions.

Russia claims it has no plans to attack Ukraine, but it does want Ukraine and other former Soviet republics to remain outside of NATO. It also wants NATO to stop deploying armaments in the region and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe. These requests are categorically rejected by the United States and NATO.

Truss reiterated his appeal for Moscow to withdraw its forces, while Lavrov dismissed the proposal as unacceptable, citing British and NATO military buildups in Eastern Europe as an example.

According to the Russian daily Kommersant, during the tense exchange, Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s right to deploy military on its own soil and asked Truss if she recognizes the Voronezh and Rostov districts in southwestern Russia as part of the country, to which she replied “no.”

When asked about the blunder, Truss told the Russian news source RBC that she initially mistook Lavrov for speaking to territories in Ukraine, but later confirmed that the locations he indicated were Russian.

Lavrov claimed he was upset with the meeting, which he described as a “dialogue between deaf and stupid” in a tense briefing afterward. Truss, he claimed, overlooked Russian arguments, exhibiting a “egoistic” position.

He mocked Russian allegations that it was waiting for the ground to freeze before sending tanks into Ukraine, claiming that the British side was just as resistant to Moscow’s arguments as the frozen ground.

Western politicians, according to Russia’s top ambassador, are fueling tensions over Ukraine for domestic political advantage. According to Lavrov, Russia has always intended to withdraw its troops following the maneuvers, and once it does, “the West will cause an uproar and claim that it compelled Russia to de-escalate.”

He snarled, “It’s peddling hot air.”

Russia’s preparations include sending troops to Belarus’s territory for sweeping joint drills that began on Thursday and will last through February 20. The Ukrainian capital lies 75 kilometers (47 miles) south of Kiev.

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, met with his Belarusian counterpart on Thursday to discuss regional security. The conversation, according to Milley’s office, helped to “lower the chances of miscalculation and gather insights on present European security.”

Belarus’ autocratic President Alexander Lukashenko, who bolstered defense relations with Moscow in the face of Western sanctions for his crackdown on domestic unrest, downplayed the threat of war. “I’m confident there won’t be a war – we’ve all become too accustomed to comfort,” he remarked.

Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who plans to run against Lukashenko in a 2020 election, said the drills exacerbated tensions and drew Belarus closer to a conflict.

Ukraine complained Russian naval operations in the Black and Azov seas on Thursday, saying they hampered commercial shipping. “When (Russian) ships can’t enter world’s ports, they’ll grasp the price of their impudence,” Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted, urging a robust Western response.

The maneuvers, according to the Kremlin, are in accordance with international maritime law.

In the face of invasion warnings from the West, Ukraine has tried to project calm, fearful of damaging its frail economy.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed business leaders, “We believe that the buildup of troops near the border is part of psychological pressure from our neighbor.” “To safeguard our country, we have sufficient money and weapons.”

Since 2014, when a popular movement forced Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president from office, Russia and Ukraine have been at odds. Moscow retaliated by annexing Crimea and then supporting a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where over 14,000 people have been murdered in conflict.

The cessation of full-scale warfare was helped by a 2015 peace pact signed by France and Germany, but periodic skirmishes persist, and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have faltered. The Russian government has accused Kyiv of sabotaging the accord, and Ukrainian officials have recently stated that executing it would be detrimental to their country.

Foreign policy advisers from Germany, France, Russia, and Ukraine met again in Berlin on Thursday to try to achieve a consensus on how to interpret the 2015 accord.

The meetings are part of a renewed diplomatic attempt to settle Russia’s and the West’s largest security dilemma since the Cold War. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, while French President Emmanuel Macron met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow before travelling to Kyiv this week.

“What is at stake right now is nothing less than stopping a war in Europe,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who discussed the impasse with US President Joe Biden and plans to visit Kyiv and Moscow on February 14-15.

Meanwhile, US lawmakers have stated that negotiations on fresh penalties against Russia have come to a halt. Republicans have pushed for harder, more urgent measures, including as sanctions against the newly constructed Nord Stream pipeline.

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