Ukraine plans to boost army amid tensions with Russia

On Tuesday, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy signed an order boosting Ukraine’s military forces by 100,000 troops over three years and raising soldiers’ pay, as European leaders queued up to support him in the face of Russia’s aggression.

Zelenskiy urged lawmakers to be cool and avoid fear, saying he authorised the increase “not because we are about to have a conflict… but so that there will be peace in Ukraine soon and in the future.”

Russia has amassed over 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, despite denials that it intends to invade – an action that the US and its allies have warned would result in harsh penalties.

Currently, Ukraine’s armed forces number roughly 250,000, compared to Russia’s total strength of around 900,000. In the “setting of continued Russian aggression,” Ukraine said it was working with Poland and the United Kingdom to improve cooperation.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki stated during a visit to Kyiv that Warsaw would assist Ukraine with gas and arms supplies, as well as humanitarian and economic aid.

“We have the sense of living at the foot of a volcano living so near to a neighbour like Russia,” Morawiecki said, pledging Ukraine artillery ammunition, mortar bombs, portable air-defence systems, and surveillance drones.

Later on Tuesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was scheduled to meet with Zelenskiy as part of a Western show of support aimed at persuading Russian President Vladimir Putin that any aggression would come at a terrible cost.

“We urge Russia to take a step back and participate in conversation in order to find a diplomatic solution and avoid further bloodshed,” Johnson said in remarks made public ahead of his arrival. “In the face of those who attempt to erode Ukraine’s sovereignty, the UK will continue to protect Ukraine’s sovereignty as a friend and democratic partner.”

Last week, the West formally rejected Russian demands that Ukraine be barred from joining NATO and NATO forces be withdrawn from eastern Europe, while indicating willingness to discuss arms limitation and confidence-building measures.

Russia has yet to make its next move, with the Kremlin stating that Putin will respond “when he feels it necessary.”

Last week, Putin stated that the US and NATO had not answered Moscow’s core security objectives, but that Russia was willing to continue negotiating.

He spoke by phone with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Tuesday, according to his office, and the two leaders agreed on the importance of finding a “sustainable and durable” solution to the crisis and re-establishing a “climate of mutual confidence.”

According to the report, Draghi stressed the significance of de-escalating tensions in Ukraine “in view of the grave consequences that a further escalation of the crisis would have.”

“WE MUST STAND TOGETHER.”

Despite the Russian force build-up, Zelenskiy has frequently pushed back against US and NATO partners’ concerns that Russia may invade Ukraine at any time.

“In domestic politics, we must be together.” “You can disagree with the administration, but you can’t disagree with Ukraine,” Zelenskiy told legislators.

“You can dislike the government, the president, but you can’t despise your own people, spread panic for political benefit, keep people on edge.”

Any sanctions placed on Russia would be in addition to those imposed after it invaded Crimea and backed separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine in 2014, but Europe’s reliance on Russian energy supply undermines the West’s position.

For the first time since Washington formally responded to Russia’s security suggestions last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday.

On Monday, a State Department official said the US had received a written response from Russia on the topic.

According to a senior diplomatic source, the letter contained queries from Lavrov, which were also forwarded to other NATO members, on how Moscow’s counterparts understood the concept of “indivisibility of security.”

Moscow claims that NATO’s acquisition of 14 new members in eastern Europe during the Cold War represents a threat to Russia, and that NATO is breaking an international agreement that states should not bolster their own security at the expense of others.

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