The worsening standoff between Russia and the West threatens to upend European security and ultimately could end up isolating Moscow in a way not seen since the days of the Soviet Union, the European Union has cautioned as an escalating crisis unfolds on the border with Ukraine.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that “the world has been watching in disbelief we face the largest build-up of troops on European soil since the darkest days of the Cold War.”
According to her, the Kremlin is driving a return to the “dark past” and “trying to undermine the whole European security architecture… that has made all European countries safer, including Russia.”
Brussels’ top official pointed to a reported buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops on the border with Ukraine as evidence it is trying to “coerce” the former Soviet Republic. “We cannot let this stand,” she said, arguing that any escalation could “cost Russia a prosperous future.”
Just hours earlier, leaders in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine claimed that they were coming under heavy bombardment from forces loyal to the government in Kiev, insisting that a full-blown offensive could be underway. The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Alexey Danilov, has denied the country’s armed forces have any plans to try to retake the separatist-held territory by force.
In response, on Friday, rebel leaders ordered a mass evacuation of civilians, although it is unclear just how many people have taken up the offer of transport across the border into Russia. Both Donetsk and Lugansk have also said they are mobilizing their armed forces and said all able-bodied men must stay and be prepared to be drafted in the event of a full-blown conflict.
According to von der Leyen, “they are faced with conscription to fight a war that they don’t want, but that Moscow might choose.” Russia has repeatedly rejected claims it is planning to wage war against Ukraine, dismissing Western intelligence reports as “hysteria.” Speaking on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin again called for a diplomatic solution to the growing crisis.
“All Kiev needs to do is sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the Donbass and agree on political, military, economic and humanitarian measures to end this conflict. The sooner this happens, the better,” Putin said.