VLADIMIR ISACHANKOV, YURAS KARMANOV and LORN KUK
MOSCOW (AP) – The presidents of the United States and Russia have previously agreed to meet in a last-ditch attempt to prevent a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, even as long-running shelling continued in the conflict in eastern Ukraine on Monday. for a broad war.
If Russia invades, as the United States warns, Moscow has already decided to do so, the meeting will be suspended. However, the prospect of a personal summit revived hopes that diplomacy could prevent a devastating conflict that would lead to mass casualties and enormous economic damage in Europe, which is heavily dependent on Russian energy.
Russia is estimated to have recruited about 150,000 troops from three sides of Ukraine, the largest number since the Cold War. And Western officials warn that Russian President Vladimir Putin is now simply looking for a reason to invade the country, a Western-looking democracy that has challenged Moscow’s attempts to return it to its orbit.
Moscow denies any plans to attack, but wants assurances from the West that NATO will not allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. He also demanded that the alliance stop deploying weapons in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe, demands that the West flatly rejected.
As the war approached, French President Emmanuel Macron planned to hold a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Putin.
Macron’s office said the two leaders had “adopted the principle of such a summit”, followed by a broader meeting of other “relevant stakeholders to discuss security and strategic stability in Europe”.
They say Moscow and Washington were more cautious, but neither side denied that the meeting was being discussed.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the administration was always ready to talk to prevent war, but was also ready to respond to any attack.
“So when President Macron asked President Biden yesterday if he was prepared to meet with President Putin if Russia did not invade, President Biden certainly said yes,” he told NBC Today on Monday. “But all the signs we see on the ground in terms of the location of Russian troops are that they are actually preparing for a major attack on Ukraine.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Monday that Putin and Biden could meet if they deem it “possible”, but stressed that “it is too early to talk about specific plans for the summit.”
Macron’s office said that US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are going to lay the groundwork for a potential summit when they meet on Thursday. The French leader tried to act as a mediator to prevent a new war in Europe, and his statement followed a barrage of calls from Macron to Putin, Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky.
Although diplomacy was advancing, there were signs that it could not prevent a wider conflict. At a particularly strong signal, Russia and its ally Belarus announced on Sunday that they were expanding mass war games in Belarus, which could be a springboard for an attack on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, just 75 kilometers (less than 50 miles) away. ) south of the border.
Since Thursday, shelling has also intensified along a tense line of contact that separates Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed insurgents in Ukraine’s eastern industrial center, Donbas. More than 14,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted there in 2014, shortly after Moscow annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula.
Ukraine and separatist insurgents have exchanged responsibility for mass violations of the ceasefire: hundreds of explosions are recorded daily. The world is watching the fighting cautiously, as Western officials have been warning for weeks that Russia will look for a reason to invade – and that the conflict in the Donbas could be just such an excuse.
On Friday, separatist officials announced the evacuation of civilians and military mobilization in the face of what they described as Ukraine’s imminent attack on rebel regions. Ukrainian officials have vehemently denied any plans to launch such an attack and have described the evacuation order as part of Russia’s provocations aimed at preparing the ground for the invasion.
While Russian-backed separatists have accused Ukrainian forces of shelling residential areas, Associated Press reporters from several towns and villages in the Ukrainian-dominated territory along the line of contact did not notice a noticeable escalation from Ukrainian hand and documented signs of intensified shelling by separatists who destroyed houses and tore roads.
Some residents of the main, rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, described sporadic shelling by Ukrainian forces, but added that they were not on the same scale as before, during the nearly eight-year conflict in the east.
On Monday, separatist authorities said that Ukrainian shelling had killed at least four civilians and injured several more in recent days. The Ukrainian military said two Ukrainian servicemen were killed last weekend and another was wounded on Monday.
Ukrainian military spokesman Pavlo Kovalchuk said Ukrainian positions had been shelled 80 times on Sunday and eight times early on Monday, noting that separatists “cynically shelled residential areas, using civilians as shields.” He insisted that Ukrainian forces did not respond to the fire.
The head of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Alexei Danilov also denied that Ukrainian forces are shelling the territory held by the rebels, noting that “our military can take revenge and shoot only if their lives are in danger.”
In the village of Navagnatovka on the government-controlled side, 60-year-old Ekaterina Yevseyeva said the shelling was worse than in the midst of fighting at the beginning of the conflict.
“We are on the verge of nervous breakdowns. And there’s nowhere to run, ”she said in a trembling voice.
Yauseyeva said that against the background of the resumed fighting, residents were stomping in the basements: “Yesterday I saw my neighbor with a two-month-old baby when she ran to the basement. That should not be the case. “
Amid heightened fears of an invasion, the Kremlin reacted angrily to a New York Times report that the U.S. administration had sent a letter to the UN human rights leadership alleging that Moscow had compiled a list of Ukrainians who would be killed or sent to detention camps thereafter. invasion. Kremlin spokesman Peskov said the statement was a lie and no such list existed.
Russian officials have deviated from Western calls for de-escalation by withdrawing troops, arguing that Moscow is free to deploy troops and conduct exercises anywhere on its territory – and at the invitation of allies, Belarus.
Throughout the crisis, Ukrainian leaders sought to project calm, repeatedly downplaying the threat of invasion.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov said on Monday that Russia had gathered 147,000 troops around Ukraine, including 9,000 in Belarus, claiming that number was clearly insufficient to attack the Ukrainian capital from the north.
“Talking about the attack on Kyiv by Belarus sounds ridiculous,” he said, accusing Russia of using troops there as a tactic of intimidation.
A senior European Union diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Barrel, welcomed the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit, but said the 27-nation bloc had completed its package of sanctions for use if Putin ordered an invasion.
“The job is done. We are ready, ”Barel said. He did not provide details on who could be the target.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said on Monday that the European Union had also agreed to send troops to the country in an advisory role. It will probably take several months to set up.
Karmanov reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Cook from Brussels. Lori Hinnant in Kiev; Angela Charlton in Paris; Zick Miller and Aamer Madhani in Munich, Germany; Geir Mulson in Berlin; and Ellen Nickmaier, Robert Burns, Matthew Lee and Darlene Superville of Washington contributed to this report.
Follow the coverage of the Ukrainian crisis of the AP at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine