BRUSSELS (AP) — High-stakes diplomacy and military maneuvering continued Wednesday as Britain launched its own diplomatic effort to help avert a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine. No breakthrough in peace talks between Ukraine and Russia is in sight so far, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intentions remain as opaque as ever.
Here’s a look at what is happening where and why:
BRITAIN TAKES ITS TURN AT THE TABLE
Britain is preparing to follow France’s diplomatic foray into the Ukraine crisis† British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was flying to Moscow Wednesday for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to travel to Poland and NATO headquarters on Thursday.
Russia has deployed well over 100,000 troops near Ukraine, fueling fears of a possible invasion. French President Emmanuel Macron reported that Putin him that Moscow would not further escalate the tensions.
But the Kremlin denied that any agreement on calming things down was reached Tuesday, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that “in the current situation, Moscow and Paris can’t be reaching any deals.” Russian officials also say that Moscow has no intention to invade Ukraine.
Truss, making the first visit to Russia by a UK foreign secretary in four years, took a tougher line than Macron as she set out, repeating the numerous Western warnings that a Russian offensive carried the threat of political and economic sanctions.
Any Russian invasion of Ukraine “would bring massive consequences for all involved” and “Russia should be in no doubt about the strength of our response,” she said. “Russia has a choice here. We strongly encourage them to engage, de-escalate and choose the path of diplomacy.”
Amid fears of possible military conflict, Pope Francis reminded the world that “war is crazy.” He said diplomacy is the best option.
“Let us continue praying to the God of peace so that the tensions and threats of war are overcome by a serious dialogue,” Francis told his weekly general audience.
NATO SENDS IN THE CAVALRY
The United States has begun to deploy the 2nd Cavalry Regiment – the US Army’s longest active-serving cavalry regiment in the US Army – from Germany to Romania. The regiment’s commander, Col. Joe Ewers, said the first troops arrived in Romania in the past 24 hours.
“The focus of this particular mission, of course, is to reinforce the NATO alliance, to build that trust and confidence, to reassure our allies and to strengthen the eastern flank of the NATO alliance,” Ewers told reporters at Rose Barracks in the German city of Vilseck on Wednesday.
While NATO does not plan to send troops to Ukraine, the 30-nation military alliance is bolstering its own defenses from Estonia in Northern Europe, down around Ukraine’s western border and into the Black Sea region in Bulgaria. NATO is also mulling whether to set up a longer-term military presence in Hungary and Slovakia.
Thousands of troops from several nations have been put on heightened readiness should Russia invade. Russia said Tuesday that it had dispatched six large landing craft to the Black Sea region, a development that made US officials particularly wary.
Ukraine has asked for preemptive action in the form of sanctions and other measures, but the United States and its allies remain cautious, although some are sending arms and other supplies.
Asked in Kyiv whether Spain would contribute with weapons or some other kind of help for Ukrainian forces, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares reiterated Wednesday that now is “the moment of diplomacy” and that “dialogue, easing tensions and de-escalation” must be priority.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
In Ukraine, where Russia’s military buildup already has affected the economy and currency, officials, soldiers and civilians alike mostly are trying to stay resolute. That’s no easy task at the “line of contact” in the east of the country, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting Russia-backed separatists for nearly eight years.
“The war has put pressure on me and broken my soul,” soldier Ivan Skuratovskyi said. His calm forgets on numbness. A sniper recently killed one of the few dozen men under his command. “I’m becoming more cold-hearted, some would say dead-hearted,” he said.
US officials say the threat of a Russian invasion in Ukraine is more serious than at other points in the conflict, in which more than 14,000 people have died. But a sense of calm prevails in the Eastern European nation among relatives of those in the trenches on up to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
“We are defending our country and are on our own territory. Our patience can have an impact on provocations, when we don’t respond to provocations but behave with great dignity,” Zelenskyy said Tuesday.
Inna Varenytsia in Adiivka, Ukraine, Jill Lawless in London, Frank Jordans in Berlin and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.