Moscow, 1 February 2022 (dpa/MIA) – Russian President Vladimir Putin is prepared to answer questions posed by journalists on Tuesday, according to the Kremlin, as fears grow that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine.
The massing of 100,000 troops along Ukraine’s borders, coupled with Moscow’s demands for NATO “security guarantees,” have led to a flurry of diplomatic activity, without producing a significant breakthrough. Russia denies it is planning to invade, however.
Putin’s press conference is planned after his meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Interfax news agency, without stating a time.
Orbán and Putin plan to discuss security, among other issues. He is the first prime minister from an EU and NATO member state to meet Putin face-to-face since the current crisis broke out.
Since November, the US and Europe have been sounding the alarm about a large build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, prompting fears that Moscow was planning a military offensive that would dramatically escalate the simmering conflict between the two nations.
Armed conflict between Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists broke out in 2014, but has since turned into a stalemate with regular eruptions of shelling and skirmishes.
Earlier, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi spoke with Putin. During their call, Putin demanded that Ukraine fulfill its obligations under the Minsk peace agreement, including planned special status for the breakaway eastern Ukrainian territories of Donetsk and Lunhansk, collectively called the Donbas region, according to a Kremlin statement. Draghi called for de-escalation, according to a statement issued by Rome.
Putin spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday and Monday about Russia’s demands and preparations are under way for the two leaders to meet in person, according to the Kremlin. France currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
Meanwhile British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte were all expected to travel to Ukraine on Tuesday.
The Dutch are willing to provide weapons to Kyiv, while Poland supplies drones and portable air defense missiles that can shoot down helicopters. Johnson has already ordered the delivery of weapons.
Moscow has demanded NATO cease its eastward expansion and guarantee that Ukraine will never become a member of the defense alliance. NATO and the US have rejected these calls but have offered to discuss the issue in a written response.
Russia has yet to issue its official response, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday, according to Interfax news agency. “Something got mixed up,” he said, adding that Moscow was still preparing its response.
The US State Department had already confirmed receipt of a Russian letter, but provided no information about the content.
On Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also called on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to respond to Moscow’s security demands.
He demanded clarity on what is meant in references to “indivisible security” and the OSCE’s call for no country to be expected to let its security be dependent on the interests of another country.
Russia says NATO’s eastward expansion since the end of the Cold War feels like a threat.
Tensions have been rising steadily in the region against this backdrop.
Earlier on Tuesday, the US State Department ordered the families of diplomats stationed in Belarus to leave the country.
Russia has deployed soldiers to Belarus, raising fears that Moscow could attack Ukraine from the north.
Russia however says the troops are stationed in Belarus for a military maneuver that is due to be held over 10 days in Belarus in mid-February. Moscow has vowed to be transparent about the plans but this has done little to allay fears.