Diplomatic efforts were continuing on Monday to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine, but calls also grew louder for pre-emptive sanctions to be imposed on Russia as its leader convened the National Security Council in Moscow to discuss the crisis.
The Kremlin said it was open in principle to a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden amid severe tensions over Ukraine.
“Of course, we do not rule it out,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow, according to the Interfax news agency.
Putin and Biden could decide to meet in person or talk on the phone at any time, he said. “There are no concrete plans for this so far.”
The initiative for a summit came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who spoke twice to Putin and once to Biden by phone on Sunday. Biden already agreed “in principle” to a meeting, according to the White House.
Meanwhile Putin has convened a National Security Council for Monday, Peskov said, according to Interfax. Peskov described the situation in the conflict zone as “extremely tense.”
“We see no signs of an easing of tensions so far,” he said.
International observers had recently spoken of a massive increase in violations of an existing ceasefire.
Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine said on Monday that two people – including one of their fighters – are dead following gunfire from Ukrainian army forces.
The other deceased was a miner who was shot on his way to work, the rebel forces posted on Telegram. It is impossible to independently verify the state of hostilities in the region.
The separatists and Russia say that Ukrainian forces are closing in on them and are urging people to flee into Russia. Ukraine says it has no such intentions, while its Western allies say Russia is spreading false information to give it an excuse to march in, a charge Moscow denies.
More than 61,000 people have followed the suggestion to flee to Russia, reported the Interfax news agency.
The economic and military pressure that Russia is piling onto Ukraine effectively amounts to an attack, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said on his way into talks with his EU counterparts on Monday.The European Union needs to be “very clear-eyed about the situation … Ukraine is already under attack,” Landsbergis said, calling for the bloc to consider imposing sanctions now rather than just having them on standby for the case of an invasion as planned.As a Baltic state, Lithuania has “a front row seat to the whole situation,” he said. As well as the huge economic challenges Ukraine faces, “you have to imagine that the country is surrounded by a foreign army with a threat of invasion,” Landsbergis told reporters.
The minister also said the announcement that Russian troops would stay in Belarus – Lithuania’s neighbour – changed the security calculus for Europe and NATO. “What we’re seeing is actually a very slow occupation of Belarusian territory and state,” he said.
The European Union needs to impose immediate sanctions on Moscow to show it is “walking the walk” instead of waiting for a feared Russian invasion, Ukraine’s foreign minister said.
There are “good and legitimate reasons to impose at least some of the sanctions now” Dmytro Kuleba said and use measures to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“There are plenty of decisions that the EU can make now to send clear messages to Russia that its escalation will not be tolerated,” he said.
International observers say ceasefire violations are growing more common in the disputed Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which have both distanced themselves from Kiev’s rule since 2014.
More than 14,000 people have died in periodic fighting since then, with a peace deal put in place in 2015 largely ignored.