Two prominent European leaders are scheduled to travel to the capitals of Russia and Ukraine in the coming days for talks with their counterparts about diplomatic measures to ease the growing tensions surrounding Moscow’s potential invasion of Ukraine.
French President Emmanuel Macron is due in Moscow on Monday and Kyiv on Tuesday. The following week, Germany’s Olaf Scholz is set to visit Kyiv on Feb. 14 and Moscow on Feb. 15.
According to a New York Times report, while Russia’s troops in Ukraine are not ready to launch a total invasion of Ukraine, sections of its army “appear to be in the final stages of readiness for military action should the Kremlin order it.”
Moscow has dispatched an additional 10,000 troops to the region, the Times said, in addition to the thousands of troops already deployed to the area.
Meanwhile, the White House dismissed a Friday meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin in which the leaders unveiled a strategic alliance geared against the U.S.
“What we have control over is our own relationships and the protection of our own values and also looking for ways to work with countries even where we disagree,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters during her briefing.
In the meeting, Xi endorsed Putin’s demands to end NATO expansion and get security guarantees from the West, issues that have led to Russia’s standoff with the United States and its allies over Ukraine. Meanwhile Moscow voiced its support for Beijing’s stance that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China.
The two leaders met at Beijing’s Diaoyutai State Guesthouse Friday afternoon, according to China’s state broadcaster CCTV, hours before the beginning of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which diplomats from the U.S., Britain and other countries are boycotting over human rights abuses.
The broadcaster did not provide details of the meeting, but Xi and Putin, both of whom have been criticized by the U.S. for their foreign and domestic policies, issued a joint statement underscoring their displeasure with “interference in the internal affairs” of other countries.
The joint statement proclaimed a new China-Russia strategic “friendship” that “has no limits” and no “forbidden areas of cooperation.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone Friday with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to discuss Russia’s military buildup along Ukraine’s border and the threat of armed conflict.
He affirmed “the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty” and made clear the United States is willing to “impose swift and severe consequences on Russia if it chooses to escalate” the situation, according to a State Department statement.
On Thursday, a senior Biden administration official said the U.S. has information indicating that Russia has developed a plan to stage a false Ukrainian military attack on Russian territory and leverage it as a pretext for an attack against Ukraine.
Fabricating a video of such an attack is one of several options the Kremlin is formulating to give it an excuse to invade Ukraine, the official said.
“The video will be released to underscore a threat to Russia’s security and to underpin military operations,” said the official, who requested anonymity.
“This video, if released, could provide Putin the spark he needs to initiate and justify military operations against Ukraine,” the official added.
The official said the Biden administration is disclosing specifics about Russia’s alleged plans to dissuade Russia from carrying out such plans.
In an interview Thursday with MSNBC, U.S. deputy national security adviser Jonathan Finer said, “We don’t know definitively that this is the route they are going to take, but we know that this is an option under consideration.”