Germany accuses Russia of ‘Cold War demands’ ahead of security conference

Germany on Friday accused Russia of endangering Europe’s security with demands reminiscent of the Cold War, as Western leaders arrived for a Munich security conference that was expected to be dominated by the Ukraine crisis.

Fears are growing in the West that Russia is set to invade its neighbor, with the United States warning of a possible attack in the “coming days”, AFP reported.

Ahead of the opening ceremony of the three-day annual conference, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Moscow needed to show “serious steps towards de-escalation”.

“With an unprecedented deployment of troops to the border with Ukraine and the demands of the Cold War, Russia is challenging the fundamentals of the European peace order,” Baerbock said in a statement.

Russian troops virtually surrounded Ukraine during the Kremlin’s confrontation with the West over NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe.

Before heading to Munich, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the United Nations he expected an offensive in the “coming days”, presumably preceded by a pretext to justify military action.

Some feared such a moment came on Thursday, when a spike in frontline shelling damaged a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists accused Kiev of have intensified hostilities.

Russia has denied any invasion plan. But the Kremlin has also said it could be forced to respond militarily if Washington fails to meet certain security requirements.

Moscow has so far refused to attend the Munich rally, but the United States said Blinken would meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov next week, provided no invasion had taken place before.

“It’s a loss that Russia is not taking advantage of this opportunity,” Baerbock said.

She added that the conference offered a chance “to discuss how we can still counter the logic of threats of violence and military escalation with the logic of dialogue.”

– Evacuation plans –

US Vice President Kamala Harris, UN chief Antonio Guterres, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will also visit Munich.

Foreign ministers from the club of rich nations in the Group of Seven, including France, Britain, the United States and Japan, will discuss the Ukraine crisis on the sidelines of the conference on Saturday.

The talks will be hosted by Baerbock, whose country currently holds the G7 presidency.

“Even small steps towards peace are better than big steps towards war. But we also need serious steps towards the de-escalation of Russia,” she said.

“Statements of willingness to talk must be backed up by actual offers to talk. Statements of troop withdrawals must be backed up by verifiable troop withdrawals.”

Moscow made several announcements of troop withdrawals this week, but the United States, NATO and Ukraine all said they had seen no evidence of backing down.

Instead, Washington says Russia moved an additional 7,000 troops near the Ukrainian border.

Citing “possible aggravation”, Ukraine’s armed forces announced late Thursday that evacuations were planned for some communities along the conflict-ridden border, particularly from the separatist city of Donetsk.

Violence has ebbed and flowed along the eastern front line, where Kiev has been locked in a conflict with rebels backed by Moscow for nearly eight years.

After Thursday’s artillery fire on the kindergarten, Ukrainian and Western leaders reiterated calls for Russia not to exploit border tensions to launch its feared offensive.

President Vladimir Putin has made it clear that the price to pay for eliminating any threat would be for Ukraine to agree never to join NATO and for the Western alliance to withdraw from parts of Eastern Europe, thus dividing the continent into Cold War-style spheres of influence.

Ukraine is far from ready to join NATO, but has enlisted it as part of a larger goal of integrating with Western European democracies, making a historic break from the Russian orbit.

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