By: Nathaniel BALLANTYNE

TRUENEWSBLOG — The Kremlin signaled Monday that it is ready to speak to the West over security complaints that have led to the current Ukraine crisis, raising hopes that Russia might not invade its beleaguered neighbor within days like the US and European allies increasingly fear.

However, questions remain about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions. And countries are evacuating diplomats and wary of a possible impending war amid the worst East-West tensions since the Cold War.

In a recent diplomatic trip, the German chancellor said there were “no reasonable grounds” for the build-up of more than 130,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders to the north, south and east, and he called for more dialogue.

The British Prime Minister said Europe was “on the brink of a precipice” – but added: “There is still time for President Putin to take a step back.” France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French television that “all the elements” are in favor A strong Russian offensive is in place, but “nothing today shows” that Putin has decided to launch one.

Despite warnings from Washington, London and elsewhere that Russian troops could advance into Ukraine as early as Wednesday, Monday’s meeting between Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated otherwise.

Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre says the road to diplomacy with Russia over the Ukraine crisis is open, but she warns that given Russia’s daily troop surge, the administration has “clear eyes” on the prospects.

At the meeting with Putin, Lavrov argued that Moscow should hold further talks with the US and its allies, despite their refusal to consider Russia’s key security demands.

Moscow, which denies it has any plans to invade Ukraine, wants Western guarantees that NATO will not accept Ukraine and other former Soviet states as members. It also demands that the alliance halt arms deployments in Ukraine and push its forces back from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.

The talks “cannot go on indefinitely, but I would suggest continuing and expanding them at this stage,” Lavrov said, noting that Washington has offered to hold a dialogue on limits on missile deployments in Europe, limitations on military exercises and other reassurances to lead -structural measures. Lavrov said the opportunities for talks were “far from exhausted.”

His remarks in an appearance orchestrated for television cameras seemed designed to send the world a message about Putin’s own position: that hopes for a diplomatic solution are not dead yet.

Noting that the West may try to drag Russia into “endless talks,” Putin questioned whether there was still a chance of reaching an agreement. Lavrov replied that his ministry would not allow the US and its allies to block Russia’s main demands.

The US reacted coolly to Lavrov’s statements. “The path of diplomacy remains open if Russia decides to engage constructively,” said Deputy White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“However, given the steps Russia is taking on the ground, we see the prospects clearly.”

US officials said the Russian military continued apparent preparations for an attack along Ukraine’s borders. A US defense official said a small number of Russian ground units had been moving out of major congestion areas for several days and taking up positions closer to Ukraine’s border, locations that would be starting points should Putin launch an invasion.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss information not released publicly. CBS News was the first to report the unit movement.

Satellite images taken in the past 48 hours show increased Russian military activity in Belarus, Crimea and western Russia, including the arrival of helicopters, ground attack aircraft and fighter-bomber jets at forward locations. The photos also show ground forces abandoning their garrisons and combat units moving in convoy formation, according to Maxar Technologies, a commercial satellite imagery company that has been monitoring the Russian buildup.

The head of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov, downplayed the threat of invasion but warned of the risk of “internal destabilization” from unspecified forces.

“Today we do not see that a large-scale offensive by the Russian Federation cannot take place either on February 16 or 17,” he told reporters after a meeting with lawmakers. “We are aware of the risks that exist on the territory of our country. But the situation is absolutely under control.”

As if to show defiance, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday was a “Day of National Unity” and called on the country to raise the blue and yellow flags and sing the national anthem in the face of “hybrid threats”.

“Our country is as strong today as it has ever been. It’s not the first threat the strong Ukrainian people have faced,” Zelenskyy said in a video address to the nation on Monday night. “We are calm. We are strong. We are together. A great nation in a great country.”

The country is still preparing. Residents of Kiev received letters from the mayor urging them to “defend your city” and signs appeared on apartment buildings directing them to the nearest bomb shelter. The mayor says the capital has about 4,500 such locations, including underground parking lots, subway stations and basements.

dr Tamara Ugrich said she stocked up on grain and canned goods and prepared an emergency kit.

“I don’t believe in war, but on TV the tension is growing every day and it’s getting harder and harder to keep calm. The more we’re told not to panic, the more nervous people get,” she said.

Others followed the Ukrainian leadership’s advice not to panic. Street music flooded the central Maidan Square on Sunday night and crowds danced. “I feel calm. You should always be prepared for everything, then you don’t have to be afraid of anything,” said Alona Buznitskaya, a model.

During a potentially pivotal week for Europe’s security, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Ukraine on Monday before heading to Moscow for talks with Putin for a high-stakes diplomatic trip.

After meeting Zelenskyy, Scholz urged Russia to show signs of de-escalation and repeated unspecified threats to Russia’s financial position in the event of an invasion.

“There are no reasonable reasons for such a military operation,” said Scholz.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, holding talks with Lavrov and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, said in a statement that “the abandonment of diplomacy in favor of confrontation is not a step across a line, but a leap over a cliff.”

US President Joe Biden spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday. According to a Downing Street statement, the two “agreed that a crucial window remains for diplomacy and for Russia to back down on its threats to Ukraine.”

The US announced that it would close its embassy in Kyiv and move any remaining staff there to Lviv, a city near the Polish border. Lithuania also relocated diplomats’ families and some non-essential diplomatic staff out of the country.

“It is a big mistake that some embassies were moved to western Ukraine,” said Zelenskyy. “It’s their choice, but ‘Western Ukraine’ doesn’t exist. It is united Ukraine. If something happens, God forbid, it (escalation) will be everywhere.”

So far, NATO’s warnings have had little effect: Russia has only increased troops and weapons in the region and conducted massive exercises in ally Belarus, which also borders Ukraine. The West fears that Moscow’s exercises, which lasted until Sunday, could be used as a cover for an invasion from the north.

A possible way out emerged this week: Ukraine’s Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko, pointed to the possibility that Ukraine could shelve its NATO bid – a goal enshrined in its constitution – if it decides to go to war with would avert Russia.

“We could – especially if we’re being threatened, blackmailed and pressured like that,” Prystaiko told BBC Radio 5. On Monday, Prystaiko appeared to back down from the idea, but the fact that it was even raised suggests it was discussed behind closed doors .

Pressured by Ukraine’s NATO ambitions, the Ukrainian president has remained vague, calling them a “dream”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would welcome such a move.

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