By Mike Corder
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The United States is bolstering its military presence is central and eastern Europe, the Pentagon announced Wednesday, in response to fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The announcement came after a leaked document published in a Spanish newspaper suggested the United States could be willing to enter into an agreement with Russia over missile deployments in Europe if Moscow steps back from the brink in Ukraine.
The document was published a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the West of ignoring Russia’s key security demands in diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.
Here are things to know Wednesday about the international tensions surrounding Ukraine, which has an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed along its borders.
WHAT ARE THE LEADERS OF GERMANY AND FRANCE PLANNING?
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz says he plans to travel to Moscow to meet Putin, but isn’t specifying a date.
Scholz will meet President Joe Biden in Washington on Monday. He told Germany’s ZDF television on Wednesday that he will go to Moscow “soon” to discuss “the necessary questions.”
Scholz said it is “important that we are very clear in what we are saying and what we are preparing: that endangering the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, attacking militarily, would have a very high price.” He added: “I think this message has been understood.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, who’s been pushing for a diplomatic solution, said Wednesday he will speak to Biden in the “coming hours,” and is open to meeting with Putin or traveling to the region depending on how the situation develops in the coming days.
“I don’t exclude any initiative or trip,” Macron told reporters in northern France.
__ Geir Moulson and Angela Charlton
U.S. NO LONGER DESCRIBING INVASION AS ‘IMMINENT’
The Biden administration is moving away from describing a Russian invasion as “imminent” in public discussion of the crisis.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed the decision on Wednesday after Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told National Public Radio the administration was not arguing an invasion was imminent “because we are still pursuing a diplomatic solution to give the Russians an off ramp.”
Psaki added the administration has decided to stop using the term “because I think it sent in a message that we weren’t intending to send, which was that we knew that President Putin had made a decision.”
__ Aamer Madhani
WHERE IS U.S. SENDING TROOPS?
Biden is sending about 2,000 U.S.-based troops across the Atlantic to Poland and Germany this week and moving part of an infantry Stryker squadron of roughly 1,000 troops based in Germany to Romania as demonstrations of American commitments to allies on NATO’s eastern flank.
In announcing the deployments, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. forces will not enter Ukraine and will move to their new positions in coming days under U.S. command.
Russia fired back with a sharply worded objection, calling the deployments “destructive.”
With talks between Russia and the West stalled, there are growing fears across Europe that Putin is poised to invade Ukraine and smaller NATO countries on the eastern flank could be next.
Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said in a video posted on Twitter: “The strengthening of NATO’s eastern flank shows that the U.S. and the alliance are taking seriously the threat on Russia’s part and are taking resolute deterrent steps.”
___ Aamer Madhani, Lolita C. Baldor
BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY WARNS ALL WOULD SUFFER ECONOMICALLY FROM WAR
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace underscored warnings to Russia about the consequences of invading Ukraine, but cautioned that the West would be affected, too.
Wallace said at a press conference with Slovenia’s Defense Minister Matej Tonin that the message to Putin is clear that “there would be severe consequences for any invasion in Ukraine.”
Wallace added that “we would all suffer economically” in such a scenario, and there likely would be a mass migration from Ukraine if Russia invades.
“Therefore, I think it is in all our interest to put as much effort as possible to both deter but also to engage the Russian government to make sure that this does not develop,“ he said.
___ Jovana Gec
WHAT’S IN THE U.S. AND NATO REPLIES TO RUSSIA?
The Spanish daily El Pais published two documents that the Pentagon confirmed were written replies from the United States and NATO last week to Russia’s proposals for a new security arrangement in Europe.
The U.S. document, marked as a confidential “non-paper,” said the United States would be willing to discuss in consultation with its NATO partners “a transparency mechanism to confirm the absences of Tomahawk cruise missiles” at sites in Romania and Poland.
That would happen on condition that Russia “offers reciprocal transparency measures on two ground-launched missiles bases of our choosing in Russia.”
In reference to the second document, NATO said that it never comments on “alleged leaks.” But the text closely reflects statements made to the media last week by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg as he laid out the 30-nation military organization’s position on Russia’s demands.
___ Lorne Cook and Dasha Litvinova
WHAT ARE THE DUTCH DOING TO HELP UKRAINE?
The Netherlands is working out if it can offer cyber defense expertise to Ukraine.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday for long-planned talks about economic links and the 2014 downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet in eastern Ukraine. But Rutte said the discussions were dominated by the tensions on Ukraine’s border with Russia.
He said “the only route to a solution is through de-escalation, diplomacy and dialogue.”
Rutte said the Netherlands “will in the meantime support Ukraine wherever we can. For example, we are talking about offering Dutch assistance to fend off cyberattacks against Ukraine.”
Russia has carried out significant cyberattacks against Ukraine and would almost certainly do so again as part of any operation against its neighbor. Such hostile activity against Ukraine could spread far and wide, as the devastating NotPetya attack did in 2017.
___ Mike Corder
WHAT EFFECT IS THE UKRAINE CRISIS HAVING ON INFLATION?
The specter of conflict between Russia and Ukraine is helping drive up prices across the 19 nations that use the shared euro currency.
The European Union’s statistics agency reported Wednesday that inflation in the eurozone rose an annual 5.1% in January, breaking records set in the two previous months and reaching the highest level since record-keeping started in 1997.
Soaring energy prices have played a major role, rising a whopping 28.6%. N atural gas prices have surged in Europe because of depleted winter reserves, lower supplies from Russia and fears of a renewed military move by Moscow against Ukraine. Meanwhile, oil prices have spiked as the global economy recovers from the worst of COVID-19 restrictions.
EU nations get around 40% of their natural gas supplies from Russia.
HOW IS UKRAINE’S ECONOMY FARING?
Zelenskyy says the embattled country’s government has successfully shored up its currency amid jitters over the prospect of war breaking out.
“Today we have contained the situation, despite the information panic. We have taken many different steps, stabilized the hryvnia and calmed the markets,” Zelenskyy said after talks with the Dutch prime minister. “Today we see that the national currency is strengthening.”
Ukraine’s president also said the country has been boosting its military capabilities, but stressed that all the weapons Ukraine is getting from its Western allies are strictly for defense purposes.
“It’s very important for us that all these weapons are for defense. We think only about peace and de-occupation of (our) territories, solely through diplomatic means,” Zelenskyy said.
___ David McHugh
FAMILY OF JAILED AMERICAN FARMER CALLS FOR U.S. TO GET HIM HOME
The family of an American farmer detained in Ukraine on what they call bogus charges is calling on the Biden administration and State Department to “use their leverage” to get him home.
Kurt Groszhans set out from North Dakota for Ukraine in 2017 to connect with his family’s ancestral homeland and farm the country’s fertile soil. But his farming venture with a law professor who’s now a high-ranking Ukrainian government official fell apart in acrimony and accusations that culminated in his arrest last November on charges of plotting to assassinate his former business partner.
His family and supporters say the accusations are designed to silence Groszhans’ claims of corruption in Ukraine.
As he awaits trial, Ukraine is bracing for a potential Russian invasion and the U.S. has ordered the families of American personnel at the U.S. Embassy to evacuate. That has left his family fearing that Groszhans could be left behind.
Asked for comment, the State Department said the administration took seriously its responsibility to help detained Americans and was closely following the case, but declined to comment further.
___ Eric Tucker