Ukrainian president urges West to cool rhetoric on Russia
Even as Russian warships carried out target practice in the Black Sea, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on the West to cool its rhetoric about a potential invasion, saying that it's putting his country's economy at risk.
"We should have no panic. We have a powerful army," he told reporters on Friday.
These statements appear to clash with the U.S. President Joe Biden on the assessment of the security threat. In a call on Thursday, Biden told his Ukrainian counterpart there was "a distinct possibility" of a Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.
When asked about Zelensky's remarks urging the West to tone it down, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stood by the administration's messaging, noting the presence of more than 100,000 troops at Ukraine's borders.
"It’s a dangerous situation. And we’ve been saying for over a week that Russia could invade at any time," she said on Friday. "This has been our message, and we’ve been really consistent."
Biden also told reporters on Friday that he plans on moving some U.S. troops to NATO allies in Eastern Europe "in the near term."
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov again rejected that claim, insisting Moscow doesn't want a war but is prepared to launch one. Lavov said Russia will respond if it can't get security guarantees from Europe, but didn't elaborate on how
Zelensky also criticized several countries, including Canada, for withdrawing families of diplomats working at their embassies.
"I think it was a mistake," he said. "I think embassy employees should be here."
NATO on Friday threatened again to slap severe economic sanctions on Russia if it invades. Jens Stoltenberg, the alliance's secretary general, told CTV News Channel's Power Play that Ukraine’s military has more muscle and backing than it did eight years ago, when Russia annexed Crimea.
“The Ukrainian army will actually be able to defend themselves and defend Ukraine in a totally different way than they were in 2014," he said. "Ukraine has of course the right to self-defence."
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday announced that Canada would be extending Operation UNIFIER in Ukraine and will continue to send Canadian soldiers to train Ukrainian armed forces and the national guard, a move praised by Stoltenberg.
“Canada is one of the lead countries in NATO when it comes to providing support for Ukraine and you have been that for a very long time,” he said. “There are not many other countries at the equal level of efforts, doing as much as Canada.”
However, the NATO chief dodged questions about whether Canada should provide Ukraine weapons as other NATO countries have.
"Different allies have different positions on that. What Canada does makes a huge difference already," he said.