MUNICH – As shelling hit towns in eastern Ukraine on Saturday and civilians boarded buses to evacuate the area, Russia took part in a dramatic performance of military theater, test-fired arrows. cruise and ballistic fire to remind the West that a conflict over Ukraine could quickly escalate.
In eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists insist, without evidence, that Ukraine is planning a large-scale offensive, separatist leaders have called on women and Children evacuate and men prepare for battle.
While Western leaders reject the notion that Ukraine would launch an attack while surrounded by Russian forces, the panic is a worrying sign of what the United States is doing. Ky warned that could be a pretext for a Russian invasion. President Biden announced on Friday that Russian President Putin has decided to invade Ukraine.
Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, flew to Munich on Saturday to assist the West in backing his threatened nation.
Western leaders there showed a united front and repeatedly called for a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Vice President Kamala Harris called the crisis “a decisive moment” for European security and the defense of democratic values.
However, Putin has sent his own message, presiding over nuclear-capable missile tests as part of what Russia insists are military exercises around Ukraine and not premise for an invasion.
Tensions between the United States and Russia have not been this high since the Cold War, and Russia’s nuclear exercises on Saturday appeared carefully orchestrated to prevent the West from engaging directly militarily. on to Ukraine.
In Munich, Ms. Harris warned that if Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States and its allies would not only target financial institutions and technology exports to Russia, but also “accomplices and those who aided and directed this gratuitous invasion.”
“Russia continues to state that it is ready for negotiations, while narrowing down diplomatic avenues,” she said. “Their actions simply don’t match their words.”
In Ukraine, shelling has escalated in the east, where Russian-backed separatists have been battling government forces for the past few days.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday artillery fire had gone up along the entire length of the front line. The ministry said the shelling was nearly double the level of the previous two days.
Some intense shelling has targeted an area of government-controlled territory around the town of Svitlodarsk, a site that has worried security analysts for weeks because of its proximity to infrastructure. hazardous industries, including toxic gas tanks.
Nadya Lapygina, a resident of Staryi Aidar, one of dozens of towns affected by artillery and mortar fire on the northern border of the Luhansk breakaway region, said. “You don’t know how scary it is to hide him from shelling.”
There are also alarming signs of what American officials describe as a possible precursor to a Russian invasion. The leaders of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine issued an appeal on Saturday for all men in the territory they control to sign up to fight.
The separatists, seen by the West as Russia’s cronies, on Friday called on 700,000 women and children to evacuate the area, claiming that Ukrainian government troops were planning a large-scale offensive. .
On Saturday, Denis Pushilin, the leader of a pro-Russian separatist region, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, called on all able-bodied men to prepare for battle.
“I call on all the men of the republic, who can take up arms, to stand up for their families, children, wives and mothers,” he wrote on social media.
The Kyiv government has denied any plans for an attack and the United States denies the accusations were a lie intended to give Russia a pretext for an invasion.
So does Germany’s new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who dismissed Russia’s claims of a “genocide” perpetrated by Kyiv in the eastern Donbas region as “really ridiculous, needs to be very clear about that”.
Scholz said at the Munich Security Conference that a Russian move into Ukraine would be a “grave mistake” with immediate and severe “political, economic and strategic” consequences. “Nothing justifies the deployment of more than 100,000 Russian troops around Ukraine. No country should be another country’s backyard.
Similar warnings were issued by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. She promised a severe package of economic and financial sanctions against Moscow in the event of any aggression, which “could cost Russia a prosperous future”.
Even China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, in a prominent comment on some alienating Russia, said that the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all countries should be protected. “Ukraine is no exception,” he said during a virtual appearance at the Munich conference. However, he also called on the United States to stop issuing “hypebolic warnings” about Russia’s intentions.
Separatist warnings of an impending attack have led to veritable chaos at bus stations in eastern Ukraine.
Inna Shalpa, a resident of the separatist-held town of Ilovaisk in the Donetsk region, doesn’t know where the Russian bus she and her three children took is going to, but she’s ready to accept the odds to escape. from a war as expected.
Ms Shalpa, 35, said: “We were mainly worried about the children, said amid a frantic attempt to distribute refugees between buses, which were parked in front of Russia’s first railway station next door. across the border.
Russia’s missile tests, consisting of three ballistic and cruise missiles, are designed to influence the media. Mr. Putin viewed the display from a Kremlin command center, accompanied by President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus, whose government brutally cracked down on dissent following an election that was underway. disputed and is considering having Russia place several nuclear arsenals on its territory.
The test was nothing short of technologically outstanding, with videos released by Moscow showing a fighter jet launching a cruise missile from the air, a mobile launch vehicle firing an intercontinental ballistic missile and a hypersonic sea-launched missile.
While the weapons shown on Saturday have been demonstrated before, two of the three are designed to evade US missile defenses. The Kremlin said the test was designed to show off Russia’s “triad” – ground, air and sea launches – that mirrored the range of weapons in the US arsenal.
The heightened sense of urgency Washington displays is not immediately apparent in Kyiv, although Mr. Biden has clearly identified the capital as a Russian target. It is hard for many to imagine the idea of Russian forces attacking what is now a peaceful and quiet city.
“Russia will do something,” said Sofiya Soyedka, 32, a Kyiv resident, shortly after Biden’s dire warning on Friday.
But invade Kyiv? “Impossible,” she said.
Some of the officials gathered in Munich also expressed doubts, suggesting that Putin might prefer a tighter squeeze on Zelensky and Ukraine, creating provocation and anxiety and further damaging the economy. Ukraine. They suggest that such tactics would make it difficult for Europe to implement harsh sanctions on Russia and could damage the transatlantic unity on the issue that US diplomats have said. and Europe has worked hard to build.
Biden’s televised address on Friday night was the first time the president said he had now considered, based on intelligence and troop movements, that Putin had decided on an invasion. into Ukraine “in the next week, in the future. days,” adding that “we believe they will target the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people”.
U.S. officials said the president’s assessment was partly based on new intelligence showing that nearly half of the 150,000 Russian forces have moved out of formation and into combat formations, and could conduct a battle. full-scale invasion within the next few days.
This force consists of 120 to 125 tactical battalions, up from the mid-1980s earlier this month. And some of the forces are Russian reservists who would form the occupation force after an invasion, officials said. The officials requested anonymity to discuss the government’s assessments.
Report contributed by Andrew E. Kramer from Severodonetsk, Ukraine; Roger Cohen, David E. Sanger and Katrin Bennhold from Munich; Marc Santora from Kyiv, Ukraine; Valerie Hopkins from Novoluhanske, Ukraine; and Ivan Nechepurenko from Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/19/world/europe/ukraine-russia-missiles-putin.html As artillery shells increase in Ukraine, Russia fires missiles in clear warning