Latest Ukraine updates: Kyiv urges Russia to pull back troops

Ukraine news from January 30: Kyiv calls on Russia to pull back military forces amassed on its borders.

Russian army service members take part in drills at the Kuzminsky range in the southern Rostov region, Russia
Russian army service members take part in drills at the Kuzminsky range in the southern Rostov region, Russia [Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters]

Kyiv has urged Moscow to pull back its troops from Ukraine’s border and continue dialogue with the West if it is “serious” about de-escalating tensions that have soared amid fears of a Russian invasion.

“Russia must continue diplomatic engagement and pull back military forces it amassed along Ukraine’s borders and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, US senators said they are very close to reaching a deal on legislation to sanction Russia over its actions on Ukraine, and the British government said it will introduce new legislation this week to broaden the scope of sanctions it can apply to Russia, which has deployed tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border.

Russia said on Sunday it wants “mutually respectful” relations with the United States and denied posing a threat to Ukraine, but accused NATO of wanting to “drag” Ukraine into the alliance. NATO’s chief said the alliance has no plans to deploy combat troops to Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion.

The live blog is now closed, thank you for joining us. Here are the updates for January 30.

War-weary residents lament homes lost in eastern Ukraine shelling

Surrounded by empty wheat fields and buried under a thick layer of snow, the village of Nevelske in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region lies all but abandoned – it was destroyed amid an escalating Ukraine-Russia crisis that has taken Europe to the brink of conflict.

Located just 24 km (15 miles) northwest of separatist-held city Donetsk, residents of the farming settlement had weathered more than seven years at the coalface of a conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists, until heavy shelling in mid-November caused most of its remaining residents to flee.

Valentina Omelnycka, 63, and her family lost their home.

“They know civilians live here, we shouldn’t be targeted,” she said. “But they aimed straight at us.”

Read more here.

Ukraine-Russia crisis: Life inside separatist-controlled Donetsk

In the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, a breakaway region of eastern Ukraine, little has changed since the fighting broke out in 2014.

Most of the people who used to live there are too scared to return because of sporadic shelling and because fears are growing about potential renewed conflict.

But the young generation, many of whom were children when the conflict started, seem determined to live their lives as normally as they can.

Canada withdraws non-essential personnel from embassy in Ukraine

Canada will temporarily withdraw non-essential Canadian employees and remaining dependents from its embassy in Ukraine, the foreign ministry said.

“As we continue to closely monitor the situation, our highest priority remains the safety and security of Canadians. Our officials stand ready to provide consular assistance to Canadian citizens, as required,” the ministry said in a statement.

The embassy in Kyiv remains open, it said. Canada said last week it will reinforce the team at the Canadian Embassy with experts in security, conflict management, democratic reform and consular services.

Kyiv calls on Russia to pull back troops, continue dialogue

Kyiv has urged Moscow to pull back its troops from Ukraine’s border and continue dialogue with the West if it is “serious” about de-escalating tensions that have soared amid fears of a Russian invasion.

“Russia must continue diplomatic engagement and pull back military forces it amassed along Ukraine’s borders and in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

“Diplomacy is the only responsible way,” he added.

US: Russia to face pressure at UN over Ukraine crisis

The US ambassador to the United Nations promised that the UN Security Council will press Russia hard in a session on Monday to discuss Moscow’s massing of troops near Ukraine and rising fears it is planning an invasion.

“Our voices are unified in calling for the Russians to explain themselves,” Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said of the US and the other council members on ABC’s This Week programme on Sunday.

“We’re going into the room prepared to listen to them, but we’re not going to be distracted by their propaganda.”

Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks into a microphone
Linda Thomas-Greenfield said the US will not be distracted by Russian propaganda at Monday’s UN Security Council session [File: Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters]

Kyiv rally participants thank US, West for support

Demonstrators rallied in Kyiv to show appreciation for Western support amid the potential threat of looming conflict with Russia.

Members of the crowd held signs praising the US and the United Kingdom, who along with other NATO members have begun to supply additional military aid and resources to the country.

Rally participant Valentin Zverkhanovsky told The Associated Press news agency he was thankful to US President Joe Biden for his support and everyone else supporting Ukraine.

He explained that “40 million of Ukrainians have hope” for Biden’s “really strong attitude and strong international policy”.

Canada defence minister arrives in Kyiv

Canadian Defence Minister Anita Anand arrived in Kyiv for talks with her Ukrainian counterpart Oleksandr Polishchyuk.

The meeting was broadcast by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence’s TV channel, Military TV UA.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government recently announced a military training mission in Ukraine, and the provision of military aid mostly in the form of flak jackets, binoculars and medical kits.

US Senate close to deal on legislation to sanction Russia

Top US Senate leaders have said they are close to reaching a bipartisan agreement on a sanctions bill that would “crush” Russia’s economy if it sends troops into Ukraine.

Senators Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and James Risch said it was crucial that the US send a clear message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that any such aggression is unacceptable.

“I would describe it as that we are on the one-yard line,” Menendez said on CNN’s State of the Union, using an American football reference meaning very close to the goal.

There is strong bipartisan resolve to support Ukraine and to punish Russia if it invades Ukraine, Menendez said, who appeared with Senator James Risch, the Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee. Asked if an agreement will be reached this week, he said, “I believe that we will get there.”

Basic military training for Kyiv volunteers

Members of Ukraine’s far-right movement Azov together with the National Corp held military training for volunteers in Kyiv to teach them self-defence in case of an attack from Russia.

Training under the slogan “Do not panic, get ready!” was held on the outskirts of Kyiv where hundreds of volunteers showed up.

The training involved tactical manoeuvres, as well as basic instructions on how to hold a weapon.

Head of Azov battalion Maxim Zhorin told the AP news agency the group was holding training because of the “absolute ineffective actions” of Ukraine’s government.

Russia demonstrates new fighters in Kaliningrad

sukhoi su-35 jets
Sukhoi Su-35 multirole fighters of the Sokoly Rossii (Falcons of Russia) aerobatic team fly in formation during a demonstration flight at the MAKS 2017 airshow in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia [File: Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters]

Amid tensions with Ukraine and NATO, Russia has launched military drills across multiple fronts, the latest being in the Kaliningrad region.

Russian state TV showed the country’s new Sukhoi SU-30SM2 fighter jets being deployed to the region.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defence, the new multipurpose fighters have more modern engines and radars compared with previous SU-30 models, and could also bear an extended arsenal of air-to-air and ground-to-air weapons.

Speaking to Russian media, Oleg Shevchenko, the head of flight security service at the airbase, said the true potential of these fighter jets was still “to be discovered”.

NATO calls on Europe to diversify energy supply

Europe needs to diversify its energy supplies, the head of NATO has said.

The European Union depends on Russia for about a third of its gas supplies and any interruption would exacerbate an existing energy crisis caused by a shortage.

“We are concerned about the energy situation in Europe because it demonstrates the vulnerability of being too dependent on one supplier of natural gas and that’s the reason why NATO allies agree that we need to work and focus on diversification of supplies,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenburg said.

Russia’s Lavrov: NATO wants to ‘drag’ Ukraine into alliance

Russia’s foreign minister says that NATO wants to pull Ukraine into the alliance.

Russia has long resented NATO’s granting membership to countries that were once part of the Soviet Union or were in its sphere of influence as members of the Warsaw Pact.

“[NATO] has already come close to Ukraine. They also want to drag this country there,” Lavrov said. “Although everyone understands that Ukraine is not ready and could make no contribution to strengthening NATO security.”

Ukraine has sought NATO membership for years, but any prospects of joining appear far off as the country struggles to find political stability and attack corruption.

Very unlikely British troops will fight in Ukraine: Truss

It is very unlikely British soldiers would be sent to fight alongside Ukrainian troops in the event of a Russian invasion, the UK’s foreign secretary said.

Liz Truss also told the BBC it was “highly likely” Russia was looking to invade Ukraine.

Asked if there was any scenario in which British troops could be sent to fight in Ukraine, Truss said: “That is very unlikely. This is about making sure that the Ukrainian forces have all the support we can give them.”

Russia wants ‘mutually respectful’ ties with US

Russia has said it wants “mutually respectful” relations with the US and denied posing a threat to Ukraine.

“We want good, equal, mutually respectful relations with the United States, like with every country in the world,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian TV on Sunday.

He added, however, that Russia does not want to remain in a position “where our security is infringed daily”.

Lavrov said NATO’s line of defence “continues moving eastwards” and has come “very close” to Ukraine, which according to him, is “not ready” to join NATO.

UK preparing new Russia sanctions law to leave ‘nowhere to hide’

The United Kingdom will unveil new sanctions legislation next week to hit “a much wider variety” of Russian economic targets as part of efforts to deter Moscow from invading Ukraine, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said.

The UK’s top diplomat said the draft law would widen the country’s sanctions toolbox so “any company of interest to the Kremlin and the regime in Russia” could be targeted.

“There will be nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs,” Truss told Sky News.

NATO chief says no plans to send combat troops to Ukraine

NATO has no plans to deploy combat troops to non-NATO member Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

“We have no plans to deploy NATO combat troops to Ukraine … we are focusing on providing support,” Stoltenberg told the BBC.

“There is a difference between being a NATO member and being a strong and highly valued partner as Ukraine. There’s no doubt about that.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies