Leaders press for peaceful solution in Ukraine, but Biden vows swift action if Russia attacks
By Valerie Hopkins
President Joe Biden on Sunday told President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine that the United States and its allies would respond “swiftly and decisively” to a new Russian incursion into his country as Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany prepared to travel to Kyiv on Monday in an effort to defuse the crisis.
But tensions remained high as some airlines suspended flights in Ukrainian airspace; foreign embassies in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, withdrew nonessential staff; nations urged their citizens to leave the country; and the Russian military buildup in the region showed no signs of slowing.
The evacuation of foreigners and the suspension of flights has raised alarm among Ukrainians, who fear that they — not Russians — are already bearing an economic cost because of the crisis even though the West has warned Russia of immediate sanctions if it invades. Zelenskyy urged calm amid the uncertainty and frustration, while Russia continued to inveigh against Western accusations that it was preparing to invade its neighbor.
On a Sunday morning news show, Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, warned that Russia might attack at any time — and stage a pretext for doing so. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, shot back on the Telegram app and Facebook, “American politicians have lied, are lying and will continue to lie, creating pretexts to attack civilians around the world.”
Preparing for this trip to Kyiv, Scholz told reporters Sunday that there was a “serious threat to peace in Europe.” He said a Russian invasion would “lead to tough sanctions that we have carefully prepared and which we can immediately put into force, together with our allies in NATO and Europe.”
A German official said that Scholz’s visit was aimed at gaining “a better understanding of Russia’s goals” and that the chancellor would be open to initiating a broader discussion about “Russian grievances.”
Many in Ukraine view Germany with skepticism for not providing military weapons to help in its defense as other NATO allies have. Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany complained Sunday on Twitter about “German hypocrisy,” noting that Berlin sells materials to Russia that can increase weapons production.
Last week, Scholz traveled to Washington, where he met Biden in an attempt to shore up the alliance between the United States and Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy. Biden vowed that Nord Stream 2 — a lucrative gas pipeline project that connects Russia and Germany — would be halted if Moscow invades Ukraine.
Scholz has not explicitly said the pipeline will be canceled in the event of an invasion, but Biden said the two countries were crafting their policies “in lockstep.”
Scholz’s Social Democratic Party has historically favored strong ties between Germany and Russia and has struggled to develop a coherent stance in dealing with Putin. But Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German president — who rose to political prominence as a member of the party — was unequivocal in his criticism of the Russian troop buildup. Reelected Sunday to a second five-year term, he warned Putin not to “underestimate the power of democracy” in his acceptance speech.
“We are in the midst of a military conflict, a war in Eastern Europe,” Steinmeier said. “Russia is responsible for that.”
He appealed directly to Putin, calling on him to “untie the noose around Ukraine’s neck and join us in finding a way to preserve peace in Europe.”