Zelenskiy Calls On Ukrainians To Remain Calm As Blinken, Lavrov Set To Speak

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses parliament in Kyiv on February 1.  

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called on Ukrainians to stay calm and united as the government and leaders around the world pursue efforts to ward off a possible invasion by Russia, which has amassed tens of thousands of soldiers along the border.

Speaking to parliament on February 1, Zelenskiy said "nobody is deciding Ukraine’s destiny behind our backs," adding that he hopes the date of the next meeting of the Normandy Format group — which includes Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany – to discuss a resolution to the escalating tensions will be decided soon.

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"We are actively working to decide in the nearest future the date of the next meeting of the advisers in Berlin, where I hope an agreement will be reached about the meeting of the leaders of the Normandy Four," Zelenskiy said, on the same day he signed a decree to increase the size of Ukraine’s armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years and raise soldiers’ salaries.

Zelenskiy also said that he had held talks with representatives of 80 countries and international organizations, who, according to him, unilaterally supported Ukraine in the ongoing standoff with Russia.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, a senior Russian diplomat on February 1 denied reports that Moscow had sent Washington a written response to a U.S. proposal aimed at de-escalating the Ukraine crisis.

Russia has demanded legally binding guarantees from the United States and NATO that Ukraine will never join the bloc, that it will halt the deployment of weapons systems near Russian borders, and that its forces will be rolled back from Eastern Europe.

NATO and Washington, who have rejected the demands as nonstarters, have provided Moscow with written responses to the demands. On January 31, three U.S. administration officials said that the Russia had sent a written response to the U.S. proposals.

But Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko on February 1 told the state RIA Novosti news agency that this was “not true.”

RIA Novosti cited an unnamed senior diplomat in the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying that Lavrov had sent a message to his Western colleagues, including Blinken, about “the principle of indivisibility of security," but added that it wasn’t a response to Washington’s proposals.

The denial comes as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to talk about Ukraine by phone on February 1. The talks are set to be the first direct dialogue between the top American and Russian diplomats since Washington submitted its written responses last week.

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Earlier on February 1, Russia’s embassy in Washington said that Moscow will not back down in the face of U.S. threats of sanctions.

"We are not going to back away and stand at attention, listening to the threats of U.S. sanctions," the embassy said on Facebook, adding that it is "Washington, not Moscow, that generates tensions."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to travel to Kyiv on February 1 for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

"As a friend and a democratic partner, the U.K. will continue to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty in the face of those who seek to destroy it," Johnson said in a statement.

Johnson had also been expected to talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone on February 1, but the Kremlin said the conversation is unlikely to take place today.

The call was originally planned for January 31, but Johnson had to reschedule the call for unspecified reasons.

"The talks are not on the schedule today," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "But we don’t rule out that a later time will be agreed upon."

Johnson in a statement on January 31 again urged Russia to step back and engage in dialogue to find a diplomatic resolution.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss plans to travel to Ukraine with Johnson. She said on January 31 that the British government by February 10 will be ready to impose "wide-ranging" sanctions against Russia in the event of an invasion and the sanctions will target anyone providing strategic or economic support to the Russian regime.

Peskov called the British warning "very disturbing," saying it made Britain less attractive to investors and would hurt British companies.

"An attack by a given country on Russian business implies retaliatory measures, and these measures will be formulated based on our interests if necessary," Peskov said.

With reporting by UNIAN and Ukrayinska pravda

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