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Ukraine's Zelenskyy urges calm as world leaders work to avert Russian invasion

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking to reporters Friday in Kyiv.
Ukrainian Presidential Press Office
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking to reporters Friday in Kyiv.

As the U.S. and its allies in Europe capped a week of high-stakes diplomacy aiming to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy urged world leaders to cool the talk of war.

Speaking to foreign reporters in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, on Friday, Zelenskyy said Ukraine's economy had been damaged by what he said was a false perception that Ukraine is on the brink of war, calling decisions by the U.S. and the U.K. to withdraw families of embassy staff a "mistake."

"They're saying tomorrow is the war. This means panic in the market, panic in the financial sector," he said. "How much does it cost our country?"

Zelenskyy downplayed the danger posed by some 100,000 Russian troops stationed around Ukraine's borders. "We have been in these situations for eight years," he said, referring to Russian-backed separatist violence in eastern Ukraine and cyberattacks that have been ongoing since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.

"We have learned to live with this and develop with this," he said. "The threat is constant."

Putin commented Friday on U.S. and NATO responses to Russia's security demands

On Wednesday, the U.S. and NATO each delivered a written response to a list of security demands made by Russia last month.

In a phone call Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his first public comments about those responses. Russia was carefully studying them, he said, and had yet to determine its next moves, according to a Kremlin readout of the call.

But Putin said that the West had failed to address Russia's "principal concerns" — a guarantee that NATO would never admit Ukraine as a member and the withdrawal of NATO military personnel from some of the Eastern European member states.

Officials from both the U.S. and NATO have repeatedly emphasized their commitment to the alliance's "open door" policy, which allows any European country to join the bloc so long as it can meet certain commitments.

On Friday, Zelenskyy called for Ukraine to be a party to negotiations between Russia and the United States. "President Biden recently assured me — and yesterday as well — that nothing will be decided behind Ukraine's back about the destiny, the current and future of our country," he said.

"Why do you need so many soldiers all there?" Zelenskyy said, addressing Putin. "Why do we need to have these drills so often?" he added, noting that the Russian military is already highly trained and capable. The "mere fact" of accumulating troops in such numbers along the border by itself risks a response from other world powers wary of Russia, he said.

U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,reiterated Friday that the U.S. has "no intent whatsoever" of attacking Russia.

"Conflict is not inevitable," said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, referring to the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Though some 8,500 U.S. troops in the U.S. and Europe are on "high alert," according to the Defense Department, none has yet been deployed to NATO countries in Eastern Europe. President Biden has previously said that no troops will go into Ukraine.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused Western governments of "hysterically advancing" the likelihood of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"If it depends on Russia, there will be no war," he said — but warned that Russia would not allow its interests to be ignored.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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