Ukraine’s president says countries should not further evacuate their embassy staff despite what he described as ongoing threats of destabilization in the nation.
At a news conference with foreign media Friday, Volodymyr Zelenskyy said countries that have ordered some embassy staff and family members to leave – like the United States, Great Britain and Canada – shouldn’t approve further withdrawals.
“I think that embassy employees should be here. I’m sorry, but these are the captains of the diplomatic cause, they’re the representatives of their respective countries and the captains are the last to be leaving the ship,” Zelenskyy said through a Ukrainian translator.
“I don’t think we have a Titanic here. Ukraine is moving forward.”
While many western nations fear a Russian military invasion is becoming possible, Ukrainian officials have repeatedly tried to project calm.
“I don’t consider the situation now more tense than before. There is a feeling abroad that there is war here. That’s not the case,” Zelenskyy said.
“I am not saying an escalation is not possible … (but) we don’t need this panic.”
Tensions in eastern Europe have soared recently after Russia stationed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, leading the United States, Canada and its NATO allies to believe an invasion could be imminent.
On Friday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine -however – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the Kremlin could destabilize Ukraine through cyberattacks, an attempted coup or sabotage.
When asked by Global News, which was the only Canadian media outlet present at the briefing, about prevented attacks, Zelenskyy said Ukraine has stopped several cyberattacks and has managed to restore many government websites recently impacted.
Ukrainian secret service officers and law enforcement are working daily to foil any further efforts at destabilization, including physical attacks and bomb threats at schools, he added.
Russia, he claimed, wants “provocation” in Ukraine. He cited a recent fire at the Russian embassy in the city of Lviv as an example.
“On a daily basis, there’s an action plan to make sure we don’t lose any lives,” Zelenskyy said.
“Our law enforcement, our secret service are working on a daily basis to prevent this, so we understand they need provocation every day to de-balance the situation in Ukraine.”
While nations pursue a diplomatic solution, Moscow has demanded NATO promise Ukraine will never be allowed to join and that the alliance reduce its military presence in eastern Europe.
The U.S. and NATO formally rejected those demands this week, though Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, offering hope war could be avoided.
In a call with French President Emmanuel Macron Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the U.S. and NATO had not addressed Russia’s main security demands, but that Moscow was ready to keep talking.
The Kremlin quoted Putin as telling Macron he would study the written responses provided by Washington and NATO this week before deciding on further action, Reuters reports.
On Thursday, U.S. President Joe Biden warned Zelenskyy there is a “distinct possibility” Russia could take military action against the former Soviet state in February.
As the standoff continues, the West has warned Moscow of crippling sanctions if it invades Ukraine, including penalties for top Russian officials and key economic sectors.
While Moscow and the West are debating their next steps, NATO said it is bolstering its deterrence in the Baltic Sea, and the U.S. has put 8,500 troops on higher alert for potential deployment to Europe.
Canada, meanwhile, recently announced further support for Ukraine by extending its military training operation by three years, as well as providing non-lethal equipment, enhanced intelligence sharing and resources to defend against cyberattacks.
Moscow has also launched a series of military drills involving motorized infantry and artillery units in southwestern Russia, warplanes in Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea and dozens of warships in the Black Sea and the Arctic.
Ukraine has been beset by conflict since 2014, when its Kremlin-friendly president was ousted, and Moscow annexed Crimea and backed an insurgency in the country’s east.
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed rebels has killed more than 14,000 people since then, and efforts to reach peace have stalled.
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters