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On the Ukraine crisis, there was a sharp juxtaposition Friday as the Pentagon warned that Russian troops could invade at any time, while Ukraine’s president accused the West of sowing panic. Both statements came as Moscow provided its first comments on recent diplomatic moves. Nick Schifrin joins Judy Woodruff with more.
President Biden confirmed tonight that U.S. troops will be heading to Eastern Europe and NATO countries amid heightened tensions between Russia and Ukraine. He was asked by a reporter about any us troop movements this evening.
Have you decided how soon you would be moving U.S. troops to Eastern Europe?
Joe Biden, President of the United States: I will be moving U.S. troops to Eastern Europe into NATO countries in the near term.
Earlier today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed fears of an imminent war between Ukraine and Russia, urging the West not to panic over the escalating situation at the border.
Meanwhile, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said that Moscow doesn't want a war. But he also warned the West not to trample on his country's security interests, after the U.S. delivered its response to Russia on the Ukraine crisis.
Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister (through translator):
We have got the answers only the day before yesterday. They are written in Western-style, and make things as clear as mud in many aspects.
But, as I have said before, there are some rational kernels in there regarding peripheral issues.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin also spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron today and voiced his frustrations over his country's unmet demands.
Nick Schifrin is here, following all of these developments.
So, hello, Nick.
What the president — President Biden had to say a few minutes ago caught our attention. Tell us what's behind these comments.
The U.S. has put 8,500 troops on heightened alert, prepare-to-deploy orders. That's what the Pentagon calls it.
And the reason it's done that is it's concerned not only about war in Ukraine, about war in Ukraine spreading into Eastern Europe. And so it wants to reassure eastern flank allies. It wants to reassure NATO. Part of that is giving U.S. troops over to NATO command to reinforce that eastern flank along the Russian border.
And, at the same time, NATO countries are trying to do the same, reinforce with French, with Dutch jets, with soldiers moving to Eastern Europe to really try and make the message to Putin career that, regardless of what happens in Ukraine, we are — we being the West, we being NATO — are able to deter you, are able to send you a message about how strong we feel about the number of troops that need to be in Eastern Europe and our commitment to defend our NATO allies.
So, Nick, we reported what the Ukrainian president is saying, telling the West not to panic, but the Pentagon had something to say today. Tell us about that.
Yes, what's interesting here is, the Pentagon, the U.S. and Kyiv really aren't on the same page when it comes to the threat.
From the U.S. perspective, they see Russian troops, they see Russian material rushing to the Ukrainian border every day, these videos released by the Russian military defense every day. And what the U.S. sees is a more serious and imminent threat than Europe has seen in decades, as we heard from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, in a joint Pentagon press conference with the secretary of defense, Lloyd Austin.
Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: Sure, with 100,000 troops, and you have got combined arms formations, ground maneuver, artillery, rockets, you have got air and all the other piece parts that go with it, there's a potential that they could launch on very, very little warning. That's possible.
This is larger in scale and scope and the massing of forces than anything we have seen in recent memory. And I think you would have to go back quite a while into the Cold War days to see something of this magnitude.
Now, just before that, we heard Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky say that talk of imminent war was causing panic in Ukraine. And he criticized the U.S. for making a decision last weekend for evacuating diplomats' families, as we heard today through Zelensky's official interpreter.
Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukrainian President (through translator):
Embassy employees should be here. These are the captains. I'm sorry, but these are the captains of the diplomatic corps, the representatives of their respective countries. And the captains are the last who should be leaving the ship.
I don't think we have a Titanic here. Ukraine is moving forward. Sometimes, they're not even using diplomatic language. They're saying, tomorrow is the war. This means panic on the market, panic in the financial sector.
Ukrainian officials tell me, Judy, that they believe us is actually hyping the threat.
And that is leading international investors to refuse to lend to Ukraine. And that reduces Ukraine's economic growth. They also say that they're frustrated that their requests for more weapons, for example, Patriot missiles, like you can see there, anti-ship missiles, are being denied by the administration.
Now, senior U.S. officials tell me that they are sending a lot of weapons to Ukraine, and that they're, frankly, just calling it as they see it on the border with Russia. And that frank talk continued last night in the conversation between President Biden and President Zelensky.
I'm told Biden told Zelensky that Russia has the capacity to seize and hold territory and even overthrow the government in Kyiv.
So, Nick, while all this is going on, is the diplomatic track still alive here?
Yes, very much so.
Earlier this week, the U.S. and NATO gave official responses to Russia's demands, rejecting Russia's demands that NATO never — sorry — Ukraine never join NATO, and that NATO roll back, basically, to 1990s levels.
And instead, the U.S. wants to limit military exercises in Europe, restrict missile deployments and talk about new arms control.
Now, today, as you said, Judy, Vladimir Putin said the U.S. had — quote — "failed to take Russian security concerns into account." But we heard something else from Sergey Lavrov. He said there was a kernel of rationality in the U.S. proposals. And that could be a hint that diplomacy will move forward, U.S. Naval War College's Nikolas Gvosdev told me earlier today.
Nikolas Gvosdev, U.S. Naval War College:
What it means is that the points which Lavrov believes that he can continue negotiating directly with the United States, perhaps understanding that the U.S. can't make certain formal commitments, but you might be able to jury-rig a solution with the U.S. that Moscow might find satisfactory.
And this is where another diplomatic track is going to be quite critical. And that is the revival of the Normandy format with Germany, France, Ukraine, and Russia.
That Normandy format focuses on the war that is ongoing, Judy, in Eastern Ukraine and requires Moscow to reduce violence. But it also requires Kyiv to give areas that are controlled by Russian separatists some autonomy, and those talks will continue over the next couple of weeks.
All right, Nick Schifrin following developments from every front tonight.
Thank you, Nick.
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Nick Schifrin is the foreign affairs and defense correspondent for PBS NewsHour, based in Washington, D.C. He leads NewsHour's foreign reporting and has created week-long, in-depth series for NewsHour from China, Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Cuba, Mexico, and the Baltics. The PBS NewsHour series "Inside Putin's Russia" won a 2018 Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence. In November 2020, Schifrin received the American Academy of Diplomacy’s Arthur Ross Media Award for Distinguished Reporting and Analysis of Foreign Affairs.
Morgan Till is the Senior Producer for Foreign Affairs and Defense (Foreign Editor) at the PBS NewsHour, a position he has held since late 2015. He was for many years the lead foreign affairs producer for the program, traveling frequently to report on war, revolution, natural disasters and overseas politics. During his seven years in that position he reported from – among other places - Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Haiti, South Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Canada and widely throughout Europe.
As the deputy senior producer for foreign affairs and defense at the PBS NewsHour, Dan plays a key role in helping oversee and produce the program’s foreign affairs and defense stories. His pieces have broken new ground on an array of military issues, exposing debates simmering outside the public eye.
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