As the United States continues to warn that the threat of a Russian attack on Ukraine remains “imminent,” there is one dissenting voice that has grown stronger: that of Ukraine.
Since President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian government has tried to call for calm, with senior officials making it clear in recent days that they do not see the risks as higher than in the past eight years of conflict fueled by the Russia in eastern Ukraine.
Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Hanna Malyar, for example, said the number of Russian troops massed on Ukraine’s borders “is not sufficient for a full-scale invasion”. Instead, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is using the troop buildup “mainly to politically blackmail the West and put pressure on Ukraine,” she wrote in a Facebook post.
“Russia’s tactical goal is to cause integral divisions in our society, to sow fear and panic, to destabilize the internal situation,” she added.
Ukrainians’ concern that fear and panic could spread, sending Ukraine’s economy spiraling or creating political unrest, has begun to drive divisions between the United States and Ukraine – despite efforts on both sides to make it clear that they are united against any Russian aggression.
“Everything is under control. There is no reason to panic,” Zelenskyy said in a televised address to his country on Monday evening – but the speech devoted more time to COVID-19 than to Russia.
Some of the actions taken by the United States in recent days, some in fear of Kiev, play into Moscow’s playbook – stoking fear and panic.
This includes the State Department’s decision to withdraw the US embassy, ordering the families of diplomats to evacuate and allowing non-emergency personnel to leave if they wish.
State Department spokesman Ned Price called it a “prudent precaution,” but his Ukrainian counterpart, Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko. criticized it as “premature and an example of excessive caution”.
“The Russian Federation is currently making active efforts to destabilize the situation in Ukraine. A large amount of false information, manipulation and counterfeits are spreading in Ukrainian and international media in order to sow panic among Ukrainians and foreigners, d “bullying businesses and undermining the economy and the financial stability of our state. In this situation, it is important to soberly assess the risks and remain calm,” Nikolenko added.
Only four countries have followed the United States, to varying degrees: the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Germany.
“If people go into a state of panic, it’s a dangerous situation for our country, and then it will be much easier to manipulate us, and that’s Russia’s goal,” warned Aleksey Danilov, a senior Ukrainian national security official.
Some economic damage is already apparent. Yields on Ukrainian sovereign Eurobonds in US dollars suddenly shot up to 11-14% on January 14 and have risen further since – losing Ukraine’s access to the international financial market, according to Anders Åslund, senior researcher at the Stockholm Free. WorldForum.
“Ukraine’s emerging economic problems are entirely under the shadow cast by the threat of a dramatic escalation of Russian military aggression,” Åslund said. wrote for the Atlantic Council, a Washington-based think tank.
The White House and State Department have defended the administration’s decisions and rhetoric, denying that the embassy withdrawal, placing 8,500 U.S. troops on alert and warning of an “imminent” threat worsened the situation.
“I’ll let others judge, but there are 100,000 troops — Russian troops — on the border with Ukraine and it’s not clear that the Russian leader has no intention of invading. That sounds pretty dangerous to me,” the White House spokesman said. Jen PSAKI said on Tuesday.
But 100,000 is not enough for an invasion, according to Malyar and the commander-in-chief of Ukrainian frontline forces. Lt. Gen. Oleksander Pavlyuk told ABC News last week that Ukraine has assessed Russia to have 127,000 troops in total, though the US still says around 100,000. the Ukrainian army is about 200,000 strong today, and it would take many more Russian troops to invade a country the size of Texas.
The number of Russian troops “is also not increasing as many represent today,” Danilov, who is secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, told the BBC in an interview on Tuesday. “Is it unpleasant for us? Yes, but for us it’s not news. If for someone in the West it has become news, well, I’m sorry.”
Still, Psaki denied there was daylight between Washington and Kyiv, adding: “We are in constant contact with the Ukrainians to reiterate our support, to pass on updates on shipments of supplies, military equipment – something that happened in the last few days.”
Nikolenko also highlighted this military cooperation, praising “his proactive diplomatic stance and the strengthening of Ukraine’s defense capabilities, including the supply of arms and equipment”.
ABC News’ Patrick Reevell contributed to this report from Kyiv, Ukraine.