The crisis intensifies in the East. Follow live all the information on the tensions between Ukraine and Russia, while the various protagonists increase the deployment of troops and military maneuvers.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Saturday evening that he would not “retaliate” to Russian “provocations” in eastern Ukraine and remained ready for “dialogue” with Moscow.
“He expressed his desire not to respond to provocations along the line of contact” and “entrusted him with telling Vladimir Putin Ukraine’s availability for dialogue”, indicated the French presidency at the end of this interview of almost an hour.
The French president is due to meet on Sunday at 11 a.m. (10 a.m. GMT) with his Russian counterpart in what constitutes “the last possible and necessary efforts to avoid a major conflict in Ukraine”, she added.
“Russian military action against Ukraine would bring war to the heart of Europe,” insisted a presidential adviser, citing the risk of conflict “in and around Ukraine.” There would then be “no other possible option than a very strong reaction”, he added.
“All signs indicate that Russia is planning a full attack” on Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in an interview broadcast on Saturday by the German channel ARD.
“We all agree that the risk of an attack is very high,” added Mr. Stoltenberg as NATO announced in the evening the transfer of its personnel present in Ukraine from Kiev to Lviv, in the west of the country, and in Brussels.
NATO has transferred its personnel present in Ukraine from Kiev to Lviv, in the west of the country, and to Brussels, to ensure their safety, an official from the Alliance told AFP on Saturday.
“The safety of our staff is paramount, so staff have been moved to Lviv and Brussels. NATO offices in Ukraine remain operational,” said a NATO official without giving any personnel figures.
OSCE observers recorded more than 1,500 violations of the truce supposed to be in force on the front in eastern Ukraine in 24 hours, they announced in a statement, a record this year.
From Thursday evening to Friday evening, observers recorded 591 violations in the Donetsk region and 975 in the Lugansk region, held in part by pro-Russian separatists at war with Kiev.
Mortar shells exploded near Ukrainian Interior Minister Denys Monastyrsky during his trip to the front line in the east of the country, AFP journalists noted. The incident caused no injuries. It happened near the village of Novoluganské, in the Donetsk region, on the frontline with Russian-backed separatists, where the minister and Ukrainian MPs visited amid unprecedented tensions with Moscow.
The Ukrainian army reported two soldiers killed and four others injured in the bombardments carried out on the front that day.
France now recommends that all its nationals leave Ukraine and calls on those in the areas most exposed to the risk of war in the east of the country to leave “without delay”.
“It is recommended that all French nationals whose stay in Ukraine has no compelling reason to leave the country”, underlines French diplomacy in its travel advice updated on Saturday.
So far, the French Foreign Ministry has only advised to “defer all trips to Ukraine”.
The French being “in the oblasts [divisions administratives, ndlr] Kharkiv, Lugansk and Donetsk” as well as in the Dnipro region, near Russia, are “called upon to leave these areas without delay”, also insists the Quai d’Orsay.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday proposed a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, at a time when fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine are at their highest. “I don’t know what the Russian president wants, that’s why I suggest we meet,” he told the Munich Security Conference.
At the same time, a second Ukrainian soldier was killed during the day on the front in the east of the country, according to a military source.
The Russian military “are deploying and preparing to strike,” US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on Saturday during a visit to Lithuania. According to the American official, the Russian troops “are moving towards the correct positions to be able to carry out an attack”. He added, however, that the conflict was “not inevitable” and that President Vladimir Putin could choose “a different path”.
For her part, US Vice-President Kamala Harris threatened to reinforce NATO forces in Eastern Europe in the event of an attack on Ukraine by Russia, and warned Moscow that it would face “severe and swift” economic sanctions.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday called on the allies to “unity” in the face of the risks of a Russian invasion in Ukraine.
‘We must be united against the threat,’ Boris Johnson told Munich Security Conference, also stressing that British sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine would make it ‘impossible’ for Moscow to use the place British finance.
A Russian region bordering Ukraine declared a state of emergency on Saturday in the face of an influx of refugees from separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, who ordered the evacuation of civilians.
“Given the increase in people arriving, it seems appropriate to us to introduce a state of emergency,” said Rostov region governor Vasily Golubev, quoted by Russian news agencies.
The leaders of the self-proclaimed “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine announced on Friday the evacuation of civilians (women, children, the elderly) to neighboring Russia, accusing Kiev of preparing an invasion after a outbreak of clashes.
Russia has set out to “undermine” the European security architecture and is carrying out “a blatant attempt to rewrite the rules of the international order”, accused European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday.
“We cannot let this happen, we are facing a blatant attempt to rewrite the rules of the international order,” Ms von der Leyen told the Munich Security Conference, where she also denounced an alliance between China and Russia to impose “the law of the strongest”.
A Ukrainian soldier was killed in clashes with Moscow-backed separatists in the east of the country on Saturday, the Ukrainian military said, amid fears of a Russian attack.
“Following a bombardment, a Ukrainian soldier was mortally wounded by shrapnel,” said the military command for eastern Ukraine.
The leader of the pro-Russian separatists in Lugansk in eastern Ukraine decreed general mobilization on Saturday, following in the footsteps of the leader of the Donetsk separatists as fears of a Russian attack are at their height.
“I decree general mobilization on the territory of the Luhansk People’s Republic,” proclaimed the decree signed by Leonid Passetchnik.
Ukraine’s armed forces and pro-Russian separatists on Saturday accused each other of serious ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, stoking fears of a Russian invasion.
The Ukrainian army reported 66 exchanges of fire until 07:00 a.m. (0400 GMT), a particularly high number, while separatists in the Donetsk region described the situation as “critical”.
The leader of the pro-Russian separatist “republic” of Donetsk, at war with Ukraine, proclaimed “general mobilization” on Saturday, as fears of a Russian attack are at their height.
“I call on my fellow reservists to report to military conscription offices. Today I signed the general mobilization decree,” Denis Pushilin announced in a video statement.
The announcement comes as observers have reported a “dramatic increase” in frontline violence between Ukraine’s military and Russian-backed separatists.