KYIV -- Ukraine’s president again pushed back on U.S. assertions that a new Russian invasion of Ukraine was imminent, as he sought to tamp down fears within the country and ease mounting economic strains.
Speaking before foreign reporters in Kyiv, Volodymyr Zelenskiy insisted that tensions with Russia had not increased and that the main risk to his country is destabilization from within.
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Zelenskiy said that while he couldn't rule out a further escalation of tensions, it is not clear that the start of a war with Russia, which has moved more than an estimated 100,000 troops to areas close to Ukraine's border, is certain.
"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," he said January 28. "I am not saying an escalation is not possible...[but] we don't need this panic.”
In recent weeks, a number of U.S. officials have made sometimes dire warnings that Russia planned to launch a new invasion of Ukraine. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki earlier this week said that an invasion was “imminent."
Ukrainian officials have made notably different statements in an attempt to downplay an immediate threat.
“Are there tanks driving on our streets? No,” Zelenskiy said. “But if you are not here, that's the sense you are getting in England, Germany, France, in Lithuania…. The impression you are getting from the media is that there is a war going on here, that soldiers are marching down our streets, that a mobilization has been declared, that people are going somewhere. That's not the case. We don't need this panic.”
Zelenskiy gave veiled criticism of Western nations who were warning of new economic sanctions but only if Russia invades. He suggested that the sanctions were needed before any possible invasion.
“Everyone is saying that there will be a war tomorrow, a large-scale one. Why all this talk about sanctions afterwards?” he said. “Such sanctions are definitely not designed [to help] our country. It speaks of an effort to restrain a large-scale aggression away from EU member states. But it cannot be done at the expense of our country.
“You are talking of the need to come up with some preemptive sanctions -- NATO is one such sanction. If it's not NATO, then be so kind and show us your security guarantees,” he said.
Zelenskiy said that Ukraine needs not only military support from the West during the current crisis but also political and economic support, including $4-5 billion to help stabilize the economy.
He also warned that Ukraine, as well as eastern members of the NATO military alliance, may be exposed to cyberattacks and other tactics by Russia.