Ukraine President Zelenskyy proposes to meet with Putin as tensions with Russia grow
Updated February 19, 2022 at 8:02 PM ET
As fears grow of a Russian invasion of his country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is proposing a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"I don't know what the president of the Russian Federation wants, that's why I proposed to meet," Zelenskyy said at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
"We are ready to sit down and speak. Pick the platform that you like," Zelenskyy said. "What is the point of us shooting and proposing diplomacy at the same time?"
The Kremlin does not yet appear to have responded to Zelenskyy's proposal as of Saturday evening ET.
"All we care about is peace," Zelenskyy said.
Vice President Harris vows swift and severe sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine
Vice President Harris on Saturday met with Zelenskyy and assured him that the U.S. takes Russian threats against Ukraine seriously and that economic sanctions against Moscow would be "swift and severe" if Russia invades Ukraine.
"The United States takes seriously the importance of the territorial integrity of Ukraine and your sovereignty," Harris told Zelenskyy before their meeting. "If Russia further invades your country, as I mentioned earlier today, we will impose swift and severe economic sanctions."
Harris also emphasized that the U.S. prefers a diplomatic solution. Zelenskyy agreed and said, "The only thing we want is to have peace, bring peace back to our country."
Zelenskyy specifically mentioned support from the U.S. for Ukraine's army and said that the aid was not just going toward his country, but also that "we are protecting Europe." He said he was looking forward to speaking more with Harris about military support and economic sanctions on Russia.
In a speech at the conference earlier Saturday, Harris said Russia's actions "do not match their words" when it comes to solving the conflict diplomatically and said the U.S. and its allies remain ready to respond if Russia chooses to invade Ukraine.
"We will target Russia's financial institutions and key industries. And we will target those who are complicit and those who aid and abet this unprovoked invasion," Harris said.
"Make no mistake: The imposition of these sweeping and coordinated measures will inflict great damage on those who must be held accountable. And we will not stop with economic measures. We will further reinforce our NATO allies on the eastern flank," she said.
In an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour in Munich, Zelenskyy said his country was resilient and noted that the conflict with Russia has been going for many years.
"We're not panicking, we are not responding to any provocations," he said. "When our soldiers are being killed, we know we need to respond, but we understand who is killing us, what these military groups are."
In a statement following Harris' meeting with Zelenskyy, the White House said its national security team stood by its assertion that a Russian attack on Ukraine could happen at any time.
President Biden will hold a National Security Council meeting on Sunday about the situation in Ukraine, press secretary Jen Psaki said on Saturday.
In a drill, Russia launches ballistic and cruise missiles
Also on Saturday, Russia conducted a "strategic deterrence forces exercise," which involved launching ballistic and cruise missiles. Putin oversaw the exercises personally in the Kremlin's situation room, the Kremlin said in a statement.
The large-scale drills were announced on Friday.
The Kremlin says the exercise was to "check the readiness of command and control structures, combat launch crews, combat ship and strategic missile carrier crews" and to test the reliability of strategic nuclear and non-nuclear forces.
On the border, tensions remain high. On Saturday, The Associated Press and Reuters reported that top Ukrainian officials were fired at in a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine and had to flee to a bomb shelter. Davyd Arakhamia, a Ukrainian politician in Zelenskyy's party, was one of the officials present, as were foreign journalists. There were reportedly no injuries.
Overnight, one Ukrainian soldier was killed in the Donetsk region, marking the first casualty since January. He died of a shrapnel wound to the head.
And Russian-led forces have fired on a checkpoint in the Luhansk region, where a convoy of humanitarian aid from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees was moving from the temporarily uncontrolled territory, according to the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Lt. Gen. Valeriy Zaluzhniy.
NPR's Franco Ordoñez and Monika Evstatieva contributed to this report.
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