A sliver of hope: The Kremlin sees a diplomatic route on Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP), -- Monday's Kremlin signals it is open to continuing talks with the West over security grievances that led the current Ukraine crisis. This signal gives hope that Russia may not invade its beleaguered neighbor in days, as the U.S. ally and European allies fear.

A sliver of hope: The Kremlin sees a diplomatic route on Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP), -- Monday's Kremlin signals it is open to continuing talks with the West over security grievances that led the current Ukraine crisis. This signal gives hope that Russia may not invade its beleaguered neighbor in days, as the U.S. ally and European allies fear.

However, there are still questions about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions. In the midst of the most severe East-West tensions since Cold War, countries are now evacuating diplomats.

Germany's chancellor stated that there were "no reasonable reasons" to build up more than 130,000 Russian troops along Ukraine's border to the south, north and west. However, he added, "There is still time for President Putin to step back." The British prime minister stated that Europe is "on the edge" of a "precipice", but added that there was still time for President Putin's to pull back.

Moscow denies any plans to invade Ukraine. It wants Western assurances that NATO will not allow Ukraine or other ex-Soviet countries to become NATO members. The West has rejected its demands that the alliance stop weapons deployments to Ukraine, and pull back its forces in Eastern Europe.

Lavrov stated that the talks cannot continue indefinitely but suggested that they be continued and expanded at this stage. He noted that Washington had offered to have a dialogue about limits on missile deployments in Europe and restrictions on military drills, as well as other confidence-building measures. Lavrov stated that there are still many possibilities for negotiations.

At a TV camera-controlled appearance, his comments seemed to be intended to convey to the world Putin's position: that is, that there are still hopes for a diplomatic solution.

Putin said that the West could try and draw Russia into "endless negotiations" and asked if there was still any chance of reaching an agreement. Lavrov said that Russia would not allow the U.S. or its allies to block Russia's main demands. Zelenskyy's staff also reported that he suggested that a quick Biden visit might be helpful -- something not mentioned in the White House summary. This visit is unlikely, as the U.S. has a small diplomatic staff in Kyiv.

Oleksiy Danilov, chief of Ukraine's security and defense council, downplayed threat of invasion, but warned of the possibility of "internal instability" by unspecified troops.

After meeting with lawmakers, he stated that "today we don't see that a large scale offensive by Russia Federation can take place either (Feb. 16th) or (17th")". "We are fully aware of the dangers that exist on the territory of our nation. The situation is under control."

Zelenskyy declared Wednesday a day of national unity, calling for the country to fly the blue-and yellow flags and to sing the national anthem to resist "hybrid threats"

"Our country is stronger than ever today. "It is not the first threat that the strong Ukrainian people have faced," Zelenskyy stated Monday evening in a video address to nation. "We're calm. We're strong. We're together. We are a great nation in a great land."

However, the country is still preparing. Residents of Kyiv received letters from the mayor asking them to "defend your city." Signs were placed in apartments indicating where the nearest bomb shelter was. According to the mayor, there are approximately 4,500 sites like underground parking garages and subway stations.

Dr. Tamara Ugrich stated that she had prepared an emergency bag and stocked up on canned foods and grains.

"I don’t believe in war. But on TV, tension is growing daily and it’s becoming harder and harder for people to remain calm. She said that the more people are told to not panic, the more anxious they become.

Others followed the advice of Ukraine’s leaders to not panic. On Sunday night, street music filled central Maidan Square and people danced. "I feel calm. Alona Buznitskaya, model, said that you should always be prepared for anything.

According to Ukrainian soldiers, shelling from the rebel-controlled areas has been increasing in the past three days at the frontline of Ukraine's long-running conflict against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. They said that they are used to it and don't fear an incursion.

In what could have been a critical week for Europe's security and stability, Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, visited Ukraine Monday before traveling to Moscow for talks on a high-stakes diplomacy with Putin.

Scholz met Zelenskyy and urged Russia to show de-escalation. He also reiterated unspecified threats against Russia's financial stability if it invades.

Scholz stated that there are no rational reasons to deploy a military force. "No one should doubt that the EU, NATO and Germany are prepared for any military offensive."

Antonio Guterres, U.N. Secretary General, met with Lavrov as well as Dymtro Kuleba the Ukrainian Foreign Minister. He stressed that diplomacy is the only option.

NATO countries are also building up their forces in Eastern Europe. The German military announced Monday that the first 350 additional troops it will send to support NATO forces in Lithuania was dispatched. The U.S. announced that it would close its Ukrainian embassy and relocate all staff to a nearby city. Lithuania also moved some non-essential diplomatic staff and diplomats from the country.

Zelenskyy stated that it was a mistake for some embassies to move to the west Ukraine. It's their decision but "western Ukraine" doesn't exist. It is united Ukraine. God forbid that something should happen. It (escalation will be everywhere).

The U.S. and NATO allies have warned Russia that they will not tolerate any invasion, but sometimes it has been difficult to form a united front. Scholz's government has been particularly criticized for refusing supply lethal weapons to Ukraine and stating which sanctions it supports. This raises questions about Berlin's determination. His visit to Kyiv did not yield any new details.

NATO's warnings have not had much effect so far. Russia has only increased its troops and weapons in the area and conducted massive drills in Belarus, an ally that also borders Ukraine. The West is concerned that Moscow could use the drills which ran through Sunday to cover an invasion from the North.

Russia repeatedly dismissed the concerns and claimed that it is entitled to deploy troops on its territory.

This week, one possible exit ramp was revealed: Ukraine's ambassador in the U.K. Vadym Prystaiko pointed out a possibility that Ukraine might abandon its NATO bid. It is an objective written into its constitution if it wanted to avoid war with Russia.

Prystaiko stated that "we might," especially after being threatened, blackmailed and pushed to that conclusion, told BBC Radio 5.

Prystaiko seemed to backtrack on Monday. Prystaiko was called out by some lawmakers to be fired, but it appears that the matter is being considered behind closed doors.

When asked Monday about Ukraine's NATO ambitions, the Ukrainian president was vague and referred to them as a "dream".

Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said that Russia would be open to such a move.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe will hold a meeting Tuesday to discuss Russian deployments. It is not clear if it could ease tensions.

Since 2014, Ukraine's Kremlin-friendly leader was overthrown by a popular uprising. Russia and Ukraine are locked in bitter conflict. Moscow responded by annexed the Crimean Peninsula and supporting the separatists from the east. The fighting has claimed over 14,000 lives.

France and Germany brokered a 2015 peace agreement that helped to end large-scale fighting. However, regular skirmishes continue and attempts to reach a political solution have been thwarted.

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