Scheduled state of emergency, mobilization of reservists, call for Ukrainians to leave Russia: Kiev stepped up preparations on Wednesday against the threat of a Russian invasion, Vladimir Putin insisting on his demands and defying Western sanctions.
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For Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, “the future of European security” is decided in Ukraine, more than 150,000 Russian soldiers, according to Washington, being deployed on its borders.
On the occasion of Defenders of the Fatherland Day, President Putin hammered home that Russian interests were “non-negotiable”, even if he mentioned a hypothetical “direct and honest dialogue with Westerners”.
The day before, shortly after being authorized by his parliament to deploy troops in Ukraine if necessary, the master of the Kremlin again demanded that Kiev renounce joining NATO, and advocated a “demilitarization” of this country of 44 million of inhabitants.
And he acknowledged to the pro-Russian separatists sovereignty over a territory much larger than that which they currently control, raising fears of a takeover by force of areas now controlled by Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine reacted on Wednesday by ordering the mobilization of reservists aged 18 to 60, and calling on its nationals – some three million people, according to some estimates – to “immediately leave” Russia.
The Ukrainian Security Council has asked Parliament to establish a state of emergency “within 48 hours”, in order to be able to “strengthen the protection” of public order and strategic infrastructure.
Vladimir Putin, who since the beginning of the crisis has set the tempo, continues to let the suspense hang over his military intentions.
No movement on the ground
After he recognized the independence of the pro-Russian separatist “republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk on Monday, the upper house gave the green light to the deployment of Russian forces in Ukraine.
While these decisions lay the foundations for a large-scale intervention on the ground, no significant troop movement has yet been reported.
In the Russian region of Rostov, about fifty kilometers from the border, Russian forces are stationed in large numbers: military trucks, rocket launchers or howitzers, without any sign of particular activity, according to AFP journalists.
In Kiev, residents have not given up on their routine.
But since Tuesday, every hour on the hour, loudspeakers have been playing the Ukrainian national anthem on the huge Maidan Square.
Speculation therefore continues on possible scenarios: from a new status quo in the separatist territories, to an all-out war between Russians and Ukrainians.
Many fear that the crisis could lead to the most serious conflict in Europe since 1945.
Russia has started to evacuate its diplomatic personnel from Ukraine, and the Russian flag no longer flies over its embassy. The United States had already closed theirs.
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss on Wednesday deemed an invasion of Ukraine “highly probable”.
The head of French diplomacy Jean-Yves Le Drian considered that Putin had “in a way” declared the negation of Ukraine as a “sovereign country”.
Pope Francis deplored the “increasingly alarming scenarios” that are looming.
US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that the latest Russian decisions amounted to “the start of an invasion”but added that there was “still time to avoid the worst”.
Washington and its Western allies have taken the first sanctions in response to the recognition of the separatists that Kiev has been fighting for eight years, a conflict that has left more than 14,000 dead.
Berlin notably froze the gigantic Nord Stream II gas pipeline project, which was to bring even more Russian gas to Germany and Mr Biden announced a “first tranche” of sanctions to prevent Moscow from raising Western funds to repay its debt.
Russia on Wednesday promised a “strong” and “painful” response to US sanctions.
These measures remain modest compared to those announced in the event of an invasion and Moscow can boast of having accumulated nearly 640 billion dollars in its foreign exchange reserves and 183 billion in a sovereign fund to deal with them.
” I’m afraid “
On the eastern front, the resumption of fighting between the army and separatists in recent days did not stop on Wednesday. The belligerents continue to exchange artillery fire, accusing each other of it.
“They started to shoot much harder,” testified to Dmitri Maksimenko, a miner from Krasnogorivka, a town near the front on the Ukrainian side.
“Shocked” to learn that Russia had recognized the independence of the separatists, he said he was “a little scared”.
Luhansk separatists announced the death of a fighter on Wednesday. A civilian was also killed in shelling during the night, according to the rebels.