Ukraine-russia standoff: Europe’s security at risk
Germany yesterday accused Russia of endangering Europe's security with demands that recall the Cold War, as Western leaders arrived for a Munich Security Conference set to be dominated by the Ukraine crisis.
Fears are growing in the West that Russia is on the verge of invading its neighbour, with the United States warning of a possible attack in the "coming days".
Ahead of the annual three-day conference's opening ceremony, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Moscow needed to show "serious steps towards de-escalation".
"With an unprecedented deployment of troops on the border with Ukraine and Cold War demands, Russia is challenging fundamental principles of the European peace order," Baerbock said in a statement.
Russian troops have all but encircled Ukraine during the Kremlin's stand-off with the West over Nato's expansion into eastern Europe.
Shellfire rang out in eastern Ukraine yesterday as the army and Moscow-backed separatists accused each other of provocations.
The Ukrainian joint command centre said the rebels had violated the ceasefire 20 times between midnight and 9:00 am yesterday, while the Donetsk and Lugansk separatist groups said the army had fired 27 times.
A separatist leader in eastern Ukraine announced the evacuation of his breakaway region's residents to southeast Russia after the increase in shelling.
All eyes were on Russian President Vladimir Putin's next move as Moscow announced he will oversee a weekend drill of "strategic forces" -- ballistic and cruise missiles.
Russia said yesterday it was withdrawing more tanks and other armoured vehicles from areas near Ukraine's border.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the United Nations that Washington has intelligence showing that Moscow could order an invasion in the "coming days".
Russia has denied it has any such plan and claims to have begun withdrawing some of the 149,000 troops that Ukraine now says are on its borders, reports AFP.
But Putin has done nothing to dial down tensions, ordering the missile drills even as there are reports of an increase in shelling from Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine.
US President Joe Biden was set to hold video talks with Western allies, including the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Nato, later yesterday to discuss the crisis.
Meanwhile, US ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement to an OSCE meeting on the Ukraine crisis yesterday that Russia's build-up of military personnel threatening Ukraine probably totals up to 190,000, reports Reuters.
"This is the most significant military mobilization in Europe since the Second World War," Michael Carpenter said.
Visiting Poland, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington was seeing "more" Russian forces moving into the Ukraine border region despite Moscow's announcements.
He announced the planned sale of 250 Abrams tanks to Poland.
The Netherlands plans to send military equipment to Ukraine, including rifles, ammunition, radar systems and mine-detecting robots, the government said yesterday.
"We continue to aim for a diplomatic solution", Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said. "But at the same time Ukraine must be able to defend itself against a possible Russian attack."