As a slew of Western countries ordered evacuations of diplomats’ families from Ukraine and the United Kingdom joined the U.S. in vowing to send troops in the event of a Russian invasion, Ukraine’s own defense minister said there are “no grounds” to believe war is imminent.
Oleksiy Reznikov told reporters on Tuesday that the explanation for growing concern over a potential invasion was simple: “Panic and fear is the most clickable.”
“As of today, the Russian army has not formed a strike group that would be able to carry out an invasion,” Reznikov was quoted saying in local media after a meeting with lawmakers in Kyiv. “There are no grounds to think that an invasion will happen tomorrow from a military point of view.”
“But that doesn’t mean,” he said, “that they won’t develop—there are threats.”
“The Kremlin is trying to destabilize Ukraine with hybrid means, particularly by sowing panic,” he wrote in an op-ed published by Ukrainskaya Pravda a day earlier. “We must not give them the opportunity.”
In a move likely to shock some observers, Reznikov went on to say he’s prepared to meet personally with Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu—provided Western partners are also present to mediate within the framework of ongoing negotiations.
His comments came as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K. would “look to contribute” additional NATO deployments to Europe to protect against a potential Russian invasion, and the U.S. put thousands of troops on “high alert” to potentially head to Eastern Europe. Canada also reportedly ordered the families of diplomatic staff to evacuate Ukraine, following in the footsteps of the U.S., Britain, Germany, and Australia.
But while Western leaders have braced for worst-case scenarios, Ukraine’s leaders have largely dismissed the panic and reminded citizens that the country has already been at war for more than seven years
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy delivered just such a message in a speech last week, telling citizens to “calm down” and that it was only the “hype around” the threats from Russia that had increased, not the threats themselves. And as the Biden administration sent hearts racing with the order to evacuate diplomats’ families this week, the Ukrainian foreign ministry countered with an English-language announcement that it considered the move “premature” and “an instance of excessive caution.”
Amid the conflicting messages about full-blown war, Ukraine’s security service on Tuesday said it had captured an “organized crime group” that had been sent by Russia’s security services to carry out attacks on city infrastructure and “destabilize the situation in the regions.”
The group, led by a Russian citizen, allegedly recruited new members by posing as a security firm looking to hire new employees.