Ukraine: Scholz plans to call on Putin in final diplomatic push

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is preparing to make a last-ditch effort to stop Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine, after US officials warned that Russia was about to launch a major offensive on its western neighbour.

His preparations come as Western nations continue to withdraw diplomatic and military personnel from Ukraine and some airlines have canceled or redirected flights to the country, while others said they were reviewing their schedule.

On Saturday, the US said it was evacuating staff from the Kyiv embassy and some countries urged their citizens to leave. Several European countries are preparing to receive a wave of refugees in the event of military action.

Scholz will travel to Kyiv on Monday before heading to Moscow on Tuesday. Officials in Berlin say Germany has not yet given up hope that diplomacy can prevent war, although they have downplayed expectations of a breakthrough.

“I don’t think we’re going to get out of this with some particular kind of outcome,” said a senior government official. But he stressed that “now is not the time to resign”. An important goal for Scholz, he said, is to “get a better understanding of Russia’s goals and try to figure out if there’s a way to get back to direct dialogue.”

U.S. intelligence assessments estimate that Russia could launch a full-scale invasion in the coming days.

Scholz will hold talks with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday and potentially provide more German economic aid. Berlin has provided nearly 2 billion euros in aid to Kyiv since 2014.

The official said the German government is also reviewing Ukraine’s requests for military equipment, although Scholz is unlikely to promise any new supplies on Monday.

The official said Scholz would urge Putin to de-escalate the situation on the Ukrainian border, where more than 100,000 Russian troops have massed in recent weeks. He will also convey “how severe the consequences of an attack would be” on sanctions against Russia, and stressed that “the unity of the EU, US and UK should not be underestimated”.

The official said the talks with Putin were designed to explore opportunities for “direct dialogue” between Russia and the West, possibly through existing formats such as the OSCE and the Nato-Russia Council. while also seeking to make progress in implementing the Minsk agreement, designed to resolve the conflict in the eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, now controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

© Clemens Bilan / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

On the ground, US citizens serving on the OSCE monitoring mission were told by Reuters that they were in the process of being evacuated from Donetsk. OSCE officials did not confirm or deny the report.

Flight mapping software on Sunday appeared to show several airlines, including British Airways, avoiding Ukrainian airspace. British Airways declined to comment.

Ukraine’s low-cost airline SkyUp said on Sunday it had diverted a flight from Madeira, Portugal to land in the Moldovan capital Chisinau after the Irish lessor banned it from entering Ukrainian airspace. . Germany’s Lufthansa said: “The suspension of air traffic is being examined.”

Low-cost carrier Wizz Air said its flights to Ukraine were still operating and it was monitoring the situation. Ryanair, which also operates flights to Ukraine, declined to comment.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser at the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told the FT that the airlines’ actions were “nonsense” and “kind of like a partial blockade”.

“Ukraine does not consider the closure of the sky to be useless,” he said, adding that “the threat is from the Russian Federation, but is Russia not subject to such a complete blockade of its airspace? ”

Neighboring Ukraine is already prepared to accept refugees in the event of a full-blown Russian invasion. Diplomats say the European Commission is studying a range of options for financial and logistical support.

However, Brussels has so far refused to comment publicly on its plans because it believes war is inevitable.

Washington has predicted up to 5 million people could cross Ukraine’s western border. Derek Chollet, an adviser at the US State Department, said he discussed “the possibility of a refugee crisis” during a trip to Europe in recent days. “The level of preparation at the moment is quite positive,” he told reporters in Romania on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Andy Bounds in Brussels

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