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On February 19, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy joined calls from Western leaders for Russia to defuse rising tensions with at least 150,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders, fueling fears of an imminent invasion.

Zelenskiy told the annual Munich security conference that Ukraine would defend its territory with its partners or without.

His comments came after a meeting on the sidelines of the Munich meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris, who told the conference that any further Russian invasion of Ukraine would result in a reinforcement of the eastern flank of the NATO and “unprecedented” costs for Moscow.

“We will not stop at economic measures. We will further strengthen our NATO allies on the eastern flank” in response to an invasion, Harris said at the annual Munich security conference on February 19.

In the event of a Russian attack, Harris also warned Russia that it would face “unprecedented” financial costs and predicted that such an attack would bring European allies closer to the United States.

His remarks come a day after US President Joe Biden said he was “convinced” that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made the decision to invade.

Russia has at least 150,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, and the situation on the line of contact in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists control parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, deteriorated over the past two days, with Kiev accusing separatists of firing on Ukrainian positions.

Adding to concerns was news on February 19 that Putin had launched exercises by strategic nuclear missile forces.

Amid growing war fears, foreign ministers from the wealthy group of G7 countries said in a statement that they had seen no evidence that Russia is reducing its military activity near the borders of Ukraine and remained “gravely concerned” about the situation.

Zelenskiy told the security conference in Munich that Western powers should abandon what he called their “appeasement” policy toward Moscow.

“Ukraine received security guarantees for abandoning the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world. We have no weapons. And no security… But we have the right – the right to demand the shift from a policy of appeasement to a policy of ensuring security and peace,” he said.

The world has let Ukraine down because its security architecture is beyond repair, Zelenskiy charged.

“Europe’s security architecture is almost destroyed. It’s too late to talk about fixing it,” he said during his speech at the conference.

He criticized other countries for not providing his country with the military assistance it needs in light of the threat, saying the aid given so far was more like “cough syrup than ‘to a good Covid vaccine’ against a real threat that could ignite the rest of Europe after treading on Ukraine.

“Ukraine has served as a shield for eight years now. A reliable shield holding back one of the greatest armies in the world.”

Zelensky also said he wanted a “clear” deadline for Ukraine’s NATO membership.

‘What can we do? We can continue to strongly support Ukraine and its defences. Present… clear and achievable timelines for Alliance membership,” he said.

Earlier, Harris warned of a heavy price Moscow would pay if it invaded Ukraine further.

“Let me be clear, I can say with absolute certainty: if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States, along with our allies and partners, will impose significant and unprecedented economic costs,” Harris said. .

Harris said the Biden administration, along with its allies, sought to engage in good faith with Moscow to find a diplomatic solution, but did not meet with the Kremlin in good faith.

“Russia continues to say it is ready to talk while narrowing the avenues of diplomacy,” Harris said. “Their actions just don’t match their words.”

Meanwhile, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told a visit to Lithuania on February 19 that the Russian military was “about to strike” Ukraine, even as he expressed hope that Putin would step back from the brink of war.

“There are significant combat forces forward, these forces are now beginning to unfold and move closer to the border, which is facilitating their advance,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the Munich conference that failure by Western nations to keep their promises to support Ukraine’s independence would have adverse consequences around the world, including Taiwan.

“Whenever Western ministers have visited Kyiv, we have assured the Ukrainian people and their leadership that we fully support their sovereignty and independence,” Johnson said at the meeting.

“If Ukraine is in danger, the shock will echo around the world. And those echoes will be heard in East Asia, will be heard in Taiwan,” he added. “People would draw the conclusion that aggression pays, and force is just.”

Earlier at the Munich Security Conference, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia “to stop preparing for war” and seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis it has created on the border with Russia. ‘Ukraine.

Stoltenberg told the rally in the Bavarian city that he had sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to start a dialogue in the NATO-Russia Council to avoid conflict in Ukraine.

Live briefing: Ukraine in the crosshairs

Consult the RFE/RL new live briefing on the massive build-up of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border and the ongoing diplomacy to prevent a possible invasion. Ukraine in the crosshairs features the latest developments and analysis, updated throughout the day.

Stoltenberg also told the Munich Security Conference that there were no signs of Russian withdrawal from Ukraine’s borders and the risk of conflict was real.

In an interview on the sidelines of the conference, Stoltenberg said that NATO expects the Russian military will mount “a full-scale attack” to neighboring Ukraine.

“We all agree that the risk of an attack is very high.”

Stoltenberg also said Moscow was pushing security demands that the Kremlin knew NATO could never meet.

This concern was echoed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who told the conference: “Russia has made the question of Ukraine’s possible NATO membership a casus belli, which is a paradox. because there is no decision on this on the agenda,” he said.

Scholz also dismissed Putin’s accusations of genocide in breakaway regions of eastern Ukraine as “ridiculous”, which the Russian Foreign Ministry later called “unacceptable”, according to Interfax.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the conference that complying with Russian demands is not the way to achieve peace in Europe.

“It’s naive to believe that meeting some of Russia’s demands will lead to peaceful cohabitation, peaceful coexistence,” Morawiecki said.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told the conference that comments by Russian-backed separatists over the past 24 hours appeared to follow the false flag scenario that many people had predicted, warning that it should not become a justification for war.

Ukraine has done nothing to justify the ordered evacuations in separatist areas, Baerbock said.

Separatist leaders of areas they control in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions ordered an ’emergency’ evacuation on February 18 in videos that a metadata analysis by RFE/RL’s Russian service showed that they had been recorded two days earlier on February 16, indicating that it was a pre-programmed action.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the assembly that Russia risked ruining its future prosperity if it invaded Ukraine, promising a “strong package” of financial and economic sanctions against Moscow in the event of a ‘aggression.

She also said at the Munich meeting on February 19 that the EU was now fully prepared in the event of a gas supply cutoff from Russia.

“Today I can say that even in the event of a complete gas supply disruption from Russia, we are on the safe side for this winter,” she said.

Von der Leyen accused Russian energy giant Gazprom of “deliberately trying to store and deliver as little as possible as prices and demand soar”.

The EU has feared for weeks that the current conflict with Russia could lead to a gas supply disruption.

With reports from AFP, Reuters and AP
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