World leaders are making another diplomatic push in hopes of preventing a Russian invasion of Ukraine, even as heavy shelling continues in eastern Ukraine.
The White House has said President Joe Biden has agreed in principle to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin if he refrains from launching an assault on his neighbor, which US officials say looks increasingly likely.
A Biden-Putin meeting would offer new hope of averting a Russian invasion that US officials say could begin at any time from the roughly 150,000 Russian troops that have amassed near Ukraine.
Here is an overview of the latest developments in the security crisis in Eastern Europe:
Will Biden and Putin meet?
Still, but both seem cautious about a possible meeting.
The White House said the meeting would only take place if Russia does not invade Ukraine, noting that heavy shelling continues in eastern Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov for his part said on Monday that it was premature to talk about specific plans for a summit.
French President Emmanuel Macron sought to broker the possible meeting between Biden and Putin in a series of phone calls that extended late into the night. Macron’s office said the two leaders had agreed in principle to such a summit, which would be followed by a larger summit meeting involving leaders.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to lay the groundwork for the summit during a meeting on Thursday, according to Macron’s office.
What is the situation on the eastern front of Ukraine?
Heavy shelling has increased in recent days along the tense line of contact between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist rebels in Donbass, the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine.
It’s a war that started in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. The fighting claimed at least 14,000 lives, but was largely quiet for long periods.
Ukrainian military spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk said Ukrainian positions were shelled 80 times on Sunday and eight times early Monday, noting that separatists were cynically firing from residential areas using civilians as shields. He insisted that Ukrainian forces were not fighting back.
In the village of Novognativka, on the government-controlled side, Ekaterina Evseeva, 60, said the shelling was worse than during the height of the fighting.
It’s worse than 2014, she said, her voice shaking. We are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And there’s nowhere to run.
Russian troops remain in Belarus, adding to fears
Russian troops carrying out military exercises in Belarus, located on Ukraine’s northern border, were supposed to return home when the war games ended on Sunday. But now Moscow and Minsk have announced that Russian troops will stay indefinitely.
The continued deployment of Russian forces in Belarus has raised fears that Russia could send those troops to sweep through the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, a city of 3 million people less than a three-hour drive from the Belarusian border.
Ukraine projects calm
Despite Biden’s assertion that Putin made the decision to deploy Russian forces to Ukraine, Ukrainian officials have sought to project calm, saying they do not see an invasion as imminent.
Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Monday that Russia had amassed 147,000 troops around Ukraine, including 9,000 in Belarus, arguing the number was clearly insufficient for an offensive on the Ukrainian capital.
Talk of an attack on Kiev from the Belarusian side sounds ludicrous, he said, accusing Russia of using troops there to scare itself.
Over the weekend at the Polish border, many Ukrainians were also returning home after shopping or working in the neighboring EU country. Many said they were not afraid and vowed to take up arms against Russia in the event of an assault.
EU offers to advise Ukraine
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday that the European Union had agreed to set up a military education advisory mission in his country.
Kuleba told reporters in Brussels after meeting with the bloc’s foreign ministers that an agreement in principle had been reached to deploy a military advisory training mission to Ukraine.
They are not combat forces. This is a new element in the cooperation between Ukraine and the European Union, he said, adding that the details of the mission are still being decided. It is essential that we open this new page of our relations.
The move could involve sending European officers to Ukrainian military schools to help educate its armed forces. It will probably take several months to set it up.
Britain’s final warning
British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warns that an invasion of Ukraine seems likely and that her country is preparing.
Diplomacy must be pursued, but a Russian invasion of Ukraine seems very likely. The UK and its allies are stepping up their preparations for the worst-case scenario. We must make the cost to Russia intolerably high, she wrote on Twitter.
First post: STI