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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and US President Joe Biden stressed the importance of continuing “diplomacy and deterrence in response to Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders”, according to a White House report from a telephone conversation on February 13.

Biden reiterated his commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and pledged to “respond quickly” in the event of “further Russian aggression against Ukraine.”

Zelenskiy’s office reported that the Ukrainian president had invited Biden to come to Kyiv “in the coming days.”

“I am convinced that your visit to Kyiv in the coming days… would be a powerful signal and help stabilize the situation,” the presidential office quoted Zelenskiy as saying.

The phone conversation came as Western powers continued to urge Russian President Vladimir Putin to defuse tensions, and several nations urged their citizens to leave Ukraine, fearing Moscow was about to launch an action. military against his neighbour.

On February 13, Washington increased its estimate of the number of Russian troops involved in the reinforcement from 100,000 to 130,000.

Kyiv also called for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) within 48 hours to discuss strengthening Russia. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Moscow failed to respond after Kyiv on February 11 invoked part of the OSCE’s Vienna Document to ask Moscow to explain its activities.

“Therefore, we are taking the next step,” Kuleba posted on Twitter. “If Russia is serious about the indivisibility of security in the OSCE area, it must uphold its commitment to military transparency in order to defuse tensions and enhance security for all.

WATCH: Residents of Kiev on February 12 seemed unimpressed by the news that a Russian military attack could be imminent:

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on February 13 that the decision to evacuate most of the staff from the US Embassy in Kiev was justified by the threat of a Russian invasion, which he described as ” quite imminent,” as several nations told their citizens to leave Ukraine amid Western warnings that Moscow might be on the verge of taking military action against its neighbor.

Live briefing: Ukraine in the crosshairs

Consult the RFE/RL new live briefing on the massive build-up of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border and the ongoing diplomacy to prevent a possible invasion. Ukraine in the crosshairs features the latest developments and analysis, updated throughout the day.

“Yesterday we ordered the departure of most Americans still at the US Embassy in Kyiv,” Blinken said. said after the talks in Honolulu with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

“The risk of Russian military action is high enough and the threat is imminent enough that it is the most prudent thing to do,” Blinken said, adding that provocation cannot be ruled out as an excuse for a Russian attack. against Ukraine.

“No one should be surprised if Russia provokes a provocation or an incident, which it then uses to justify military action it had planned all along,” Blinken said.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the same day that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could begin “any day.”

“That includes the week ahead before the end of the Olympics,” he added, referring to the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which are due to end on February 20.

Sullivan added that the United States would continue to release its intelligence in an effort to prevent Moscow from mounting a “false flag” operation that could be used as justification for military action.

The United States, Britain and Germany are among the countries that have told their nationals to leave, while Australia announced on February 13 that it was suspending operations at its embassy in Kyiv.

A spokesman for the US State Department said on February 13 that its warning extended to US personnel from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who were also being asked to leave the country. .

Reuters separately reported that on February 13, US OSCE personnel began to pull out by car from the rebel-held Russian-backed town of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was re-elected for a second term on February 13, said Putin should not underestimate the strength of Western resolve on Ukraine.

“I call on President Putin to loosen the noose around Ukraine’s neck and join us in finding a way to preserve peace in Europe,” Steinmeier said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the same day that NATO members and the European Union had already “carefully prepared” tough sanctions that “we can immediately put into effect” in the event of an invasion. Scholz was expected in Kiev on February 14 and in Moscow on February 15 to try to defuse tensions.

Pope Francis led a silent prayer for Ukraine during a service in Rome on Feb. 13, calling events in the region “very disturbing.”

On February 12, the Pentagon also ordered the temporary repositioning of some 150 National Guard soldiers outside Ukraine. National Guard members were in the country “advising and mentoring Ukrainian forces,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said on Twitter.

Canadian media also reported that Canada was moving its embassy staff to Lviv, near the border with Poland in far western Ukraine.

The prospect of fleeing Westerners has prompted Ukraine to appeal to its citizens to “stay calm”, with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy saying on February 12 that warnings of invasion could stoke panic, which he has described as “our enemies’ best friend”.

The moves came as attempts by the leaders of the United States and France to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin to back down appeared to bear little fruit.

US President Joe Biden told Putin in a February 12 phone call that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would “produce widespread human suffering and diminish Russia’s position” in the world, according to a statement from the White House released after the call.

Biden also reiterated that the United States and its allies would “respond decisively” with “swift and severe costs to Russia” if Russia invaded.

The call produced no fundamental change in the heightened tension over military buildup, said a senior US administration official who spoke to reporters.

It remains unclear whether Russia is willing to pursue a diplomatic path, the unnamed US official said, adding that Russia may proceed with military action. Russia has always denied that it intends to invade its neighbour.

The Kremlin said Putin told Biden that the US response to Russia’s key security demands had failed to address key concerns and that Moscow would respond soon.

Moscow demands guarantees from the West that NATO will not accept Ukraine and other former Soviet nations as members and that it will halt weapons deployments in Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe East.

Before speaking to Biden, Putin had a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron. A summary of the Kremlin appeal suggested little progress had been made in easing tensions, while the French presidency said Macron and the Russian leader ‘both expressed a desire to continue the dialogue’ during the meeting. ‘call.

On February 13, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace warned against putting too much hope in the talks, drawing a parallel between Western diplomatic efforts and the appeasement policy of European powers towards the EU. Nazi Germany before World War II.

“It is possible that [Putin] just turn off his tanks and we all go home, but there’s a whiff of Munich in the air for some in the West,” Wallace told The Sunday Times, referring to the 1938 deal that allowed Adolf Hitler to annex part of Czechoslovakia in a failed attempt to persuade him to give up territorial expansion.

“What is worrying is that, despite the huge amount of increased diplomacy, this military buildup has continued,” Wallace warned.

With reporting from Reuters, AFP, AP and BBC

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