Ukraine says Russian forces near its border are not yet large enough to conduct a full-scale invasion, even as the United States continues to insist an attack could be “imminent.”
Russia has amassed more than 100,000 combat-ready troops and heavy equipment near Ukraine and in Crimea in what the United States has said could be a prelude to an invasion.
“At this moment, by the assessment of Ukraine and its partners, this number and composition of [Russian] forces is not sufficient for a full-scale invasion,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told foreign media in an interview on February 2.
“However, we keep vigilant, we keep monitoring further dynamics,” he said.
The Biden administration late last month announced it would evacuate family members of embassy officials in Ukraine and advised Americans to leave the country as it repeatedly warned that a Russian invasion was possible.
Kuleba said the decision by the United States and a handful of other governments to advise their citizens to leave Ukraine was premature.
He said there had been talk of an imminent war for weeks and the fact that nothing had yet happened is a sign that diplomacy and deterrence have been working.
He called on the West to come to a final agreement on what sanctions it would place on Russia should it invade Ukraine and make those measures known to the Kremlin now.
The United States and its European allies have warned Russia that it will impose severe economic penalties on the country and supply more weapons to Ukraine in the event of an invasion. Shortly after Kuleba’s interview, the Pentagon announced plans to send about 3,000 troops to Poland, Romania, and Germany, but the United States has said it will not send troops to Ukraine.
However, differences remain among Western governments about which sanctions to implement.
Russia has denied it intends to attack Ukraine and says it has the right to move its forces inside its own borders as it sees fit.
However, Russia has also placed thousands of troops and equipment inside Belarus near Ukraine’s border as it prepares to hold joint military exercises with its ally.
Kuleba said there was no rationale for the buildup “except Russia putting pressure on Ukraine and [the] wider Euro-Atlantic space.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seeking to stop Ukraine from joining NATO as part of his larger push to redraw Europe’s post-Cold War security framework in Moscow’s favor.
Putin, bolstered by a stronger military and a divided West, wants to end NATO’s eastern expansion and roll back its gains over the past three decades.
Central and East European countries rushed to join NATO following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 after decades under Moscow’s control.
The United States and its allies have rejected those demands, saying they violate core Western values, including the right of countries to determine their own geopolitical course and military alliances.
Kuleba dismissed the idea that Ukraine should end its NATO ambitions and declare neutrality like Austria as a way to appease Russia.
He said Ukraine had neutrality written into its constitution when Russia invaded in 2014 following the overthrow of Kremlin-leaning President Viktor Yanukovych.
Neutrality “did not stop [Putin] from attacking us in 2014. It is hard to see why it would stop him now,” Kuleba said.
He also rejected Russia’s claim that Yanukovych was toppled in a coup d’etat, calling it disinformation.
He said Yanukovych fled the country, forcing parliament to hold new elections.