Latest Ukraine updates: Zelenskyy urges no ‘panic’ over tensions

Latest Ukraine news from January 28: President calls on the West to avoid creating ‘panic’ as Russia tensions simmer.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy also called on Russia to prove its claims it has no intention of invading Ukraine [Reuters]

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has criticised what he said was too much “panic” weighing on the country’s economy.

Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Zelenskyy said: “I don’t consider the situation now more tense than before. There is a feeling abroad that there is war here. That’s not the case.”

The attempts by the Ukrainian leader to tamp down tensions come as some Western allies – spearheaded by the United States – have warned of a potentially imminent invasion by Moscow.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the US and NATO of ignoring Russia’s central security demand of permanently blocking Ukraine from the alliance.

He added Russia would “carefully study” the responses from the West “after which it will decide on further actions”.

Earlier, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov restated that Russia did not want a war with Ukraine, an apparent reply to Washington’s warning that a February invasion was possible.

The live blog is now closed; thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for January 28.

Russian invasion of Ukraine would be ‘horrific’, top Pentagon general says

The most senior US military officer has warned that the destruction and human cost of a full-scale incursion by Russian forces into Ukraine would be “horrific.”

“If that was unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told reporters.

“And you can imagine what that might look like in dense urban areas, along roads and so on and so forth. It would be horrific, it will be terrible.”

US has no permanent military presence in Ukraine, says top general

Top US general Mark Milley has reiterated Washington’s commitment to the security of its NATO allies, but he stressed that the US does not have a permanent military presence in Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance.

“There is a small contingent of US and NATO advisors and trainers currently in Ukraine,” Milley told reporters. “The United States has zero offensive combat weapon systems, nor any permanent forces, nor bases in Ukraine.”

Still, the US general warned Russia that an invasion of Ukraine would not be “cost-free”, saying that Washington continues to provide military assistance to Kyiv.

Putin has not ‘made final decision’, Pentagon chief says

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has said Washington does not believe that Putin made a “final decision” on whether to invade Ukraine.

Austin stressed that conflict is “not inevitable”, calling on the Russian president to choose diplomacy.

“There’s no reason that this situation has to devolve into conflict. He can choose to de-escalate,” Austin said, referring to Putin. “He can order his troops away. He can choose dialogue and diplomacy. Whatever he decides, the United States will stand with our allies and partners.”

Military escalation would be ‘devastating’, rights group says

A military escalation of the conflict in Ukraine could be devastating for the rights of millions of people, rights group Amnesty International has warned.

“The threat of the use of military force by Russia is already affecting the human rights of millions of people in Ukraine and beyond,” said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

Read more here.

UNSC has ‘responsibility’ to address Ukraine crisis, US official says

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has a “primary responsibility” to address crises that pose threat to international peace like the situation in Ukraine, a senior official in the Biden administration has said.

“We believe that the situation on the ground requires us to engage in preventive diplomacy to avoid a crisis before it is upon us,” the official told reporters in a call. “In our view, it would be a dereliction of the Security Council’s duties to take a wait-and-see approach.”

The meeting will be an “important opportunity” for world powers, including Russia, to “be on the record” in their positions on the impasse, the official added.

Russia moves blood supplies near Ukraine, US officials say

Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine has expanded to include supplies of blood along with other medical materials that would allow it to treat casualties, three US officials tell the Reuters news agency.

Current and former US officials say concrete indicators – like blood supplies – are critical in determining whether Moscow would be prepared to carry out an invasion, if Putin decided to do so.

Ukraine leader calls on Russia to ‘prove’ no invasion plan

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on Russia to prove its claims it has no intention of invading Ukraine.

“They say this openly, in different media, from different officials – so they could at least show some steps to prove it,” Zelenskyy said at a news conference.

Russia says barring entry to some EU officials

Russia has said it was adding a number of EU officials to a list of people banned from entering the country in what it said was a reciprocal penalty.

“Guided by the principle of reciprocity and parity, the Russian side decided to expand a list of representatives of EU member states and institutions who are prohibited from entering Russia,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Zelenskiy seeks to calm down ‘panic’ over Russia tensions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has criticised what he said was too much “panic” weighing on the economy.

Speaking at a news conference, Zelenskyy said, “I don’t consider the situation now more tense than before. There is a feeling abroad that there is war here. That’s not the case.”

“I am not saying an escalation is not possible … [but] we don’t need this panic,” he added.

“The greatest risk for Ukraine … is the destabilisation of the situation inside the country.”

Zelenskyy trying to ‘set the record straight’

Al Jazeera’s Kimberly Halkett, reporting from Washington, DC, said it was clear that Zelenskyy wanted to “reassert himself in a conversation that appears may be taking on a life of its own”.

“There is a narrative that he (Zelenskyy) may not be entirely comfortable with, for example, the imminence of the threat that Russia poses with those tens of thousands of troops along the border with Ukraine,” Halkett said.

“And so it appears that he is trying to set the record straight,” she added. “What we are hearing from the US and President Joe Biden is that the threat is imminent, but the take from the president of Ukraine is that it may not be as imminent as Washington is characterising.”

Ukraine’s Zelenskyy urges West not to stir ‘panic’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has called on the West to avoid creating “panic” about the standoff with Russia.

“We don’t need this panic,” Zelenskyy said at a news conference with foreign media, pointing to the need to avoid hurting Ukraine’s already battered economy.

Biden, EU pledge cooperation on energy security

US President Joe Biden and European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen have pledged to cooperate on guaranteeing Europe’s energy security, as well as Ukraine’s, amid the continuing standoff with Russia.

“The United States and the EU are working jointly towards continued, sufficient, and timely supply of natural gas to the EU from diverse sources across the globe to avoid supply shocks, including those that could result from a further Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the pair said in a joint statement.

The EU currently depends on Russia for approximately a third of its gas supplies but with Washington and European NATO allies threatening to impose crippling sanctions on Moscow if it attacks Ukraine there are fears that the Kremlin could use its energy dominance as leverage.

Any interruptions to Russia’s gas supply to Europe would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by a shortage. But the plan to ensure adequate supplies reach the continent is complicated by the fact that the world’s liquified natural gas (LNG) producers are already churning out as much as they possibly can.

‘Hysteria has negative consequences and actually damages Ukraine’

Al Jazeera has spoken to Volodymyr Ishchenko, a Ukrainian sociologist and research associate at the Institute of East European Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, about the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Read what he had to say here.

NATO chief says alliance on alert over Russian activity in Belarus

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance is ready to increase its troop presence in Eastern Europe and is watching very closely as Russia moves soldiers and weapons in Belarus.

Stoltenberg, speaking online from Brussels at a Washington, DC, think-tank event, said Moscow was deploying thousands of combat-ready troops, aircraft and S-400 weapon systems into its neighbour.

“From the NATO, side we are ready to engage in political dialogue. But we’re also ready to respond if Russia chooses an armed conflict confrontation,” Stoltenberg said. He added the alliance was not planning to deploy combat-ready troops to Ukraine, however.

Putin says US, NATO responses did not address Moscow’s main concerns: Kremlin

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron during a phone call between the pair that responses to Russia’s security demands delivered by the US and NATO did not address Moscow’s principal concerns.

“The US and NATO responses did not take into account Russia’s fundamental concerns including preventing NATO’s expansion and refusing to deploy strike weapons systems near Russia’s borders,” Putin told Macron, according to a readout of their call published by the Kremlin.

The pair’s talks lasted for about an hour.

Why is Turkey trying to mediate the Ukraine-Russia crisis?

Turkey is hoping to play a mediating role between Moscow and Kyiv, as well as the latter’s Western allies.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to meet with his counterparts on both sides of the crisis in the coming weeks.

Read more on Ankara’s diplomacy play here.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan talks regularly to Putin but also has defence deals with Kyiv [File: Pavel Golovkin/Pool via Reuters]

The Ukraine-Russia crisis explained in infographics

Al Jazeera has put together eight infographics explaining the history, politics and economics of the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

Have a look here.

Analyst weighs Russia’s possible invasion routes

Andreas Krieg, an associate professor in the defence studies department at King’s College London, says any Russian invasion of Ukraine will carry “a lot of risks for casualties on both sides”.

“In the land warfare domain, particularly on Ukraine’s eastern and northern flanks, it is very well defended, especially after receiving training and supplies from the West since 2014,” Krieg told Al Jazeera, citing Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and backing of a separatist uprising in Ukraine’s east.

“But there is a weak underbelly towards the south, with Crimea being occupied by Russia, and there is a possibility of the Russians using their advantage in the naval space or in the airpower space,” he added.

Macron, Putin spoke for about an hour: AJ correspondent

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, says Macron and Putin’s phone call lasted for about an hour.

She added Macron’s office was expected to brief reporters on the pair’s discussion shortly.

Germany’s spy chief says Moscow yet to make final decision on Ukraine invasion

Russia is prepared to attack Ukraine but has not yet decided whether to do so, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service (BND) has said.

“I believe that the decision to attack has not yet been made,” Bruno Kahl told Reuters in an interview.

“The crisis can develop in thousands of ways,” he added, listing scenarios including moves to destabilise the government in Kyiv or to support separatists in the east and push the demarcation line forward as possible scenarios.

Kahl declined to comment on whether and what sanctions should be taken against Russia in the event of an attack, but he supported Germany’s approach of keeping Moscow in the dark about what moves it might have in store. “That’s what Putin does,” he said.

What exactly did Lavrov say?

  • Lavrov has said there will be no war “as far as it depends on the Russian Federation”.
  • “We don’t want a war … But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored,” he told Russian radio stations.
  • Moscow’s top diplomat also echoed the Kremlin’s suggestion on Thursday that the responses received from the US and NATO offered little ground for optimism, though he added, without giving details, that the US counter-proposals were better than NATO’s.
  • “While they say they won’t change their positions, we won’t change ours,” he said. “I don’t see any room for compromise here.”
  • Lavrov said he expected to meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken again in the next couple of weeks.

What is Russia’s problem with NATO?

Al Jazeera asked Maxim Suchkov, a non-resident expert at the Moscow-headquartered Russian International Affairs Council, to explain Russia’s issues with NATO. Take a look at his response in the video below.

Lithuania discussing hosting more German troops with Berlin

Vilnius and Berlin are holding talks concerning increasing Germany’s military presence in Lithuania, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda has said.

“We are talking about possibilities to expand, increase the German and the Enhanced Forward Presence forces in Lithuania, as we need to strengthen the eastern flank of NATO in light of the current events,” Nauseda said at the Siauliai air base.

Macron to push for “more transparency from Moscow”

Al Jazeera’s Butler, reporting from Paris, says Macron has two aims for his call with Putin on Friday.

“The first is to use his powers of personal persuasion to convince Putin to follow the path of diplomacy and not that of conflict,” she said.

“And Macron is also trying to ascertain from Putin exactly what Russia’s intentions are on the border with Ukraine, with its buildup of troops there, and to push for more transparency from Moscow.”

Russian incursion would unleash ‘devastating consequences’, Amnesty warns

Global rights group Amnesty International warns any escalation of the existing conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Kyiv has been fighting Russian-backed separatists since 2014, will have “devastating consequences for human rights in the region”.

An uptick in violence would threaten “civilian lives, livelihoods and infrastructure”, Amnesty warned in a statement, and drive acute food shortages as well as a potential mass displacement of people.

“The consequences of actual military force are likely to be devastating. Ukraine’s recent history is punctuated by conflicts involving Russian troops in Donbas and the illegal annexation of Crimea,” said Amnesty Secretary-General Agnès Callamard, citing the war in Ukraine’s east and Russia’s 2014 seizure of the Crimean Peninsula.

“These episodes have torn communities and lives apart, as military forces have trampled on the rights of civilians with impunity; it’s time to break that vicious cycle,” she added.

Sanctions only a part of Western response if Moscow orders invasion: US envoy

US Ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan has said that economic sanctions on Russia would be just one part of the West’s response if the Russian military were to invade Ukraine.

Sullivan told an online briefing that other measures would include export controls and greater defence of allies in Europe and would prevent the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany from operating.

He also said the size of the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders would allow an invasion with little warning.

Ukrainian soldiers walk at the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Katerinivka, in Ukraine's Donetsk region
Ukraine is already beset by conflict, with Kyiv fighting Russian-backed separatists who hold swaths of territory in the country’s east [File: Andriy Dubchak/AP]

A simple guide to the Ukraine-Russia crisis

The Russia-Ukraine standoff has been marked by dizzying developments and pinball rhetoric between Moscow and the West. To help you get to grips with the crisis, Al Jazeera has put together a simple explainer.

Have a look here.

Russia’s Putin, China’s Xi to focus talks on European security: Kremlin

The Kremlin says upcoming talks between Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping will mostly focus on European security and Russia’s dialogue with NATO and the US.

Putin will travel to China next month for the discussions and to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters the two leaders will talk about trade and space, as well as the security issues.

Peskov also said that Putin may give his assessment of the US and NATO responses to Russia’s security demands during a phone call with Macron later on Friday.

Lavrov, Germany’s Baerbock to speak by phone: Report

Lavrov will talk by phone to his German counterpart Annalena Baerbock later today, Russia’s Interfax news agency reports.

Russia is eager for German regulatory authorities to give the green light to the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline despite the Ukraine crisis.

Read more on the long-touted energy infrastructure project here.

War only possible if Belarus or Russia attacked: Lukashenko

Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko has said that Minsk has absolutely no interest in a war and that conflict will only break out if Belarus or its close ally Russia are directly attacked.

Lukashenko made the remarks in a speech to legislators and officials. Moscow and Minsk are set to hold joint drills in Belarus to the north of Ukraine next month.

The Belarusian leader said the drills would help Minsk understand where it needed to concentrate forces and that Belarus had to protect its southern flank with Ukraine.

British billionaire rallies business leaders to support sanctions on Russia

British billionaire Richard Branson has weighed in on the Ukraine crisis, warning any invasion by Moscow would have “devastating and terrible consequences” and calling for business leaders to “come together and stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty”.

“Even if it comes at a price, all of us should send a clear message that unilateral aggression is always unacceptable and that the global business community will support the full range of sanctions against any nation that seeks to violate the sovereignty of another,” he said in a statement.

Hungary to seek more Russian gas, Orban says

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said he will seek to increase the amount of gas his country receives from Russia when he holds talks with Putin next week.

“I would like to achieve at our talks that in the current difficult situation burdened with higher energy prices … the amount of gas available to us over the long run should be increased,” Orban told public radio.

Hungary, a member of the European Union and NATO, agreed a new long-term gas supply agreement with Russia’s Gazprom in August.

Orban, who faces what is expected to be a close-fought election on April 3, has dismissed calls from a unified opposition to cancel his visit to Moscow, scheduled for Tuesday.

Macron to seek clarity on Putin’s intentions, French FM says

Macron will try to assess whether Putin wants “consultations or confrontation” over Ukraine when they speak by phone, France’s foreign minister has said.

Speaking to RTL radio, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the West still considered dialogue possible, but the ball was in Putin’s court.

“It is up to Vladimir Putin to say if he wants consultations or confrontation,” Le Drian told RTL radio, asking whether the Russian leader wanted to be a “destabilising power” or would seek de-escalation.

Russian warships practise artillery firing in Black Sea

Russian warships have been rehearsing shooting at airborne and sea targets during exercises in the Black Sea to the south of Ukraine, the Russian ministry of defence has said.

The exercises involving 20 navy vessels began on Wednesday and are expected to wrap up on Friday.

They are part of a set of navy exercises taking place in numerous locations this month and next from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Brace for Russian cyberattacks, UK warns businesses

The United Kingdom has told domestic organisations to bolster their defences against possible Russian cyberattacks as the Ukraine crisis rumbles on.

The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said it was appealing to companies and organisations to tighten their security in response to “malicious cyber incidents in and around Ukraine”.

A cyberattack on Ukraine earlier this month warned Ukrainians to “be afraid and expect the worst”. Ukraine said Moscow was behind the attack, but the Kremlin denied any involvement in the incident.

A service member of the Ukrainian armed forces uses periscopes while observing the area at fighting positions on the line of separation near the rebel-controlled city of Donetsk, Ukraine
Russia denies that it plans to invade Ukraine, but Kyiv and its Western allies fear Moscow may be readying to make an incursion after massing troops near the two countries shared border [File: Serhiy Takhmazov/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies