Washington/Kiev, Feb 20 (EFE).- All signs point toward Russia being on the verge of invading Ukraine, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said Sunday.
Blinken’s remarks came after Belarus and Russia decided to prolong joint military exercises beyond the initial date Russia said it would withdraw its troops from the country that also neighbors Ukraine.
“Everything we’re seeing suggests that this is deadly serious, that we are on the brink of an invasion,” Blinken told CNN.
Blinken said that US president Joe Biden was willing to communicate with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin “at any time, in any format if that can help prevent a war.”
“Until the tanks are actually rolling and the planes are flying, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from carrying this forward,” he said.
Blinken also added he still intends to meet with Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov next week, as long as the Eurasian country does not launch an attack on Ukraine beforehand.
Ukrainians on Sunday commemorated the eighth anniversary of the pro-European Maidan revolution amid the heightened fears that Russia was poised to invade the country.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy headed to the Maidan museum to light a candle in memory of the 105 people who died during the protests, which broke out when the former president Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign an agreement with the European Union.
Russia claimed the Maidan revolution was a Western-backed coup and responded by annexing the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 just as pro-Russian rebels seized territory in Ukraine’s Donbas region, which led to a war that has claimed over 13,000 lives, according to United Nations calculations.
RACE AGAINST TIME
The commemorations on Sunday came as world leaders scrambled to find a diplomatic route out of a crisis sparked by a build-up of over 150,000 Russian troops along Ukraine’s border.
Zelenskyy on Sunday called for a cessation of renewed clashes in the Donbas region, where separatists in control of Donetsk and Luhansk have faced off against Ukraine’s armed forces for eight years.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Saturday reported 1,500 ceasefire violations in the region.
Kiev and Western officials have warned that Moscow could stage a so-called false flag operation it the Donbas to justify a future military operation, fears that were heightened following announcements by separatist leaders that operations were underway to evacuate civilians from Donetsk and Luhansk to Russia.
French president Emmanuel Macron and Russian leader Vladimir Putin discussed the Ukraine crisis for almost two hours on Sunday.
Shortly after, the French leader gave Zelenskyy a call, a day after the latter expressed his country’s readiness for dialogue and said he would not react to provocations by pro-Russian separatists.
Tweeting after his conversation with Macron, Zelenskyy said: “We stand for intensifying the peace process. We support the immediate convening of the Trilateral Contact Group and the immediate introduction of a regime of silence.”
The phone calls took place as Russia and Belarus decided to prolong joint military drills, Belarusian defense minister Victor Khrenin said Sunday
The exercises were due to end on Sunday but the decision to extend the drills adds more pressure on Ukraine and raises fears of an imminent attack on the country by Russia.
Russia, meanwhile, has repeatedly denied it is planning to invade Ukraine despite the massive buildup of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border.EFE