Biden urges Putin to take a step back as Russia stations troops near Ukraine

by | Apr 20, 2021 | International

As U.S., European and Russian governments rattle sabres, the people in Ukraine’s capital are being told where bomb shelters are throughout the city.

The spectre of a war with Russia looms over Kyiv and the rest of the country as military units amass at the border.

The U.S. and the European Union condemned the build-up of Russian forces along the Ukraine borders. Russian forces including tanks, troops and missiles are being set up by the Ukrainian border.

In response, President Joe Biden approved more sanctions against Russia early Thursday morning, along with the removal of Russian diplomats. That in part may also be for Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, but the potential of conflict wasn’t too far removed.

“If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I’m prepared to take further actions to respond,” Biden said. “It is my responsibility, as President of the United States, to do so.

“In that vein, I expressed concern about Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border and in occupied Crimea,” Biden said. “I affirmed U.S. support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.

“And I strongly urged him to refrain from any military action,” he said.

Biden prohibited American banks to take on any sovereign debt involving Russia after June 14, 2021. He also ousted 10 Russian diplomats and blacklisted 32 companies and individuals.

American officials cited Moscow’s connection to recent cyberattacks on the U.S. government, including SolarWinds Corp., interference into recent U.S. elections and the occupation of the Crimea territory.

The Russian threat to the American economy, security and foreign policy was the basis for Biden to issue an executive order April 15 that described Russia as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States. I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”

The European Union supported the initiative but decided to not follow the U.S. Instead, they proposed to sanction some of the Kremlin’s politicians in condemnation of cyberattacks on America.

The Czech Republic also accused Russian diplomats of organizing an explosion in an armoury on Oct. 16, 2014, and ordered 18 Russians to leave the country.

Moscow, in turn, sent 20 Czech diplomats and considered closing the Czech Republic’s Embassy in Russia.

Russian Federal Security Service also ordered a Ukrainian official in Russia to leave the country within 72 hours on April 17. He was detained by FSB officials who claimed they caught the diplomat receiving sensitive material. The Ukrainian government responded with a similar expulsion of a Russian embassy counsellor in Kyiv, although didn’t use any force.

Yevgheniy Yenin, the Deputy Chair of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, said in an interview with the Ukrainian news stream “Ukraine-24” that Russian authorities use blackmail.

Yenin said that Russia accused them for emphasizing of switching one of the high Russian embassy workers to a persona non-grata, and not a worker from some consulate in Ukraine. And they received a threat that Russia would do the same to a Ukrainian embassy worker over there.

The Russians, meanwhile, condemn the sanctions imposed on them.

“We condemn any aspirations of sanctions,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin press secretary. “We consider them illegal, and the principle of reciprocity in this matter is working, the reciprocity so that we can best serve our own interests.”

Moscow ordered the expulsion of 10 American diplomats from Moscow and prohibited eight U.S. politicians to enter the country on April 16 after Washington earlier ordered 10 Russians out as part of its sanctions.

A tank of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is seen during drills at an area of the Joint Forces Operation in an unknown location in Eastern Ukraine, in this handout picture released April 20.
A tank of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is seen during drills at an area of the Joint Forces Operation in an unknown location in Eastern Ukraine, in this handout picture released April 20. Photo credit: Reuters/Press service of Joint Forces Operation/Handout

Tensions began mounting after Russia moved over 16 brigades to the front line with Ukraine.

“There are more Russian forces massed on those borders than at any time since 2014 when Russia first invaded,” said Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, in an interview with CNBC.

A Conflict Intelligence Team, a group of nearly 10 investigators from Russia, found the location of the military camps and the number of military technologies transported there. Then they shared their findings with western colleagues.

The head of CIT, Ruslan Leviev thinks Kremlin flexes its muscles to put pressure on Ukrainian politics.

“It was strange for us that they were moving army forces, not in Rostov, that is neighbouring [with occupied territories],” Leviev said in a live session with British-based investigative journalism website Bellingcat on April 16.

But for the first time, Russian forces are amassed near Voronezh,” along the eastern Luhansk region under Ukrainian control. Leviev explained how CIT was following Russian troops and found Russia transported nearly 600 tanks to Voronezh.

Ukrainians are preparing for the worst as Kyiv’s city administration posted maps with bomb shelters throughout the city. The maps include the buildings that can provide shelter.

Volunteers started to form a brigade in the city of Ivano-Frankivsk, more than 600 kilometres southwest from Kyiv and 1,500 kilometres west of the border with Russia, in case of a Russian invasion.

New recruits of the separatist Donetsk People's Republic's armed forces march during a training in Donetsk, Ukraine, on April 16.
New recruits of the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic’s armed forces march during a training in Donetsk, Ukraine, on April 16. Photo credit: REUTERS/Alexander Ermochenko

Although the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces is calling on city authorities not to group people into military formations not recognized by law.

The Ukrainian defence industry is ready to double its production because of the risk of invasion.

In occupied Donetsk, about 750 kilometres southeast from Kyiv, a pro-Russian fraction also ordered the preparation of bomb shelters. There are sandbags inside and near administration buildings, explosions are heard in the city. No reason was provided by the municipal government.

Volodymyr Holodniuk is actively volunteering and helping soldiers on the front and recently opened the first Ukrainian Museum of the Russian-Ukrainian war in his hometown Zbarazh, about 400 kilometres west from Kyiv.

“They [soldiers] have war every day,” he said.

Holodniuk said that while recent events don’t have an impact among soldiers, they do worry about when the order comes ordering them to fight.

A photo of Volodymyr Holodniuk (third from the right) bringing donations to Ukrainian Volunteer Corps - "Right Sector". (October 2020)
A photo of Volodymyr Holodniuk, third from the right, bringing donations to Ukrainian Volunteer Corps “Right Sector” in October 2020. Photo credit: Volodymyr Holodniuk

Holodniuk visited Ukrainian troops many times as a volunteer, collecting and then transporting the most needed goods to the soldiers.

His eldest son, Ustym, was shot in the head in Kyiv on Feb. 20, 2014, during the Revolution of Dignity when large protests against ex-president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych led to violence and the use of snipers by authorities.

Holodniuk remembers many others from that era who died, including fallen soldiers in the conflict with Russia. He keeps a list of the names and their contact phone numbers as a personal memorial.

“In my contact list, I have a lot of numbers that I never dared to delete … from which numbers, I will never receive a call,” he said.

News outlets are reporting casualties caused by explosive devices on the front line. The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine found on April 14 a Russian unmanned aerial vehicle used for illegal remote mining on Ukrainian territories. Border officials later found an anti-personnel mine, that could have injured people and soldiers.

The situation is reversed in the Russian media where politicians fear a Ukrainian invasion of Russia and secret NATO training near their border.