The Kremlin has accused the West of ignoring its key security demands, as the United States, Britain and Poland reiterated their support for Ukraine and urged Moscow to reverse a major build-up of troops and armour close to its borders.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that it was "already clear that the fundamental Russian concerns were ignored" in talks last month in several formats between senior diplomats from Moscow and western capitals.
"We did not see consideration for our three key requirements, regarding the prevention of Nato expansion, the barring of strike weapons being deployed close to Russian borders, and on returning the bloc's military infrastructure in Europe to its position as of 1997," Mr Putin complained.
The US and Nato flatly reject these demands and insist that every state – including Ukraine – has a right to choose its own alliances and security arrangements; Moscow counters that the West and Ukraine must not seek to enhance their own security by undermining that of Russia.
“I hope in the end we will find a solution, but it will not be simple,” Mr Putin said after five-hour talks with Hungarian premier Viktor Orban, while accusing Washington of seeking “to contain Russia, and Ukraine is just a tool to get us involved in some armed conflict”.
Russia insists it is simply moving its armed forces around its own territory and has no intention of launching a new invasion of Ukraine, where in 2014 it annexed Crimea and launched a proxy war in the eastern Donbas region that has now killed 14,000 people.
‘Clear and present danger’
In Kyiv on Tuesday, however, British prime minister Boris Johnson accused Mr Putin of "holding a gun to the head" of Ukraine and said the Russian troops arrayed close to its territory posed a "clear and present danger".
After talks with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mr Johnson said Britain saw signs of an "imminent military campaign" by Russia against Ukraine, which would be "a political disaster and humanitarian disaster and . . . a military disaster as well."
Mr Johnson sought to brush off questions about his political future amid the swirling “partygate” scandal back home, and instead emphasised Britain’s support for Kyiv, which includes a recent delivery of anti-tank weapons and a new pledge of £88 million (€106 million) “to build Ukraine’s resilience and reduce reliance on Russian energy”.
Mr Zelenskiy thanked Britain and other western states for their support and urged Russia to send its troops back to base, describing this as “the only right answer to the question of whether they intend to continue the escalation”.
“Now there will not be an occupation [by Russia] of any [Ukrainian] city or land. But there will be, unfortunately, a terrible tragedy if the escalation starts against our country,” he warned Moscow.
“It won’t be a war of Ukraine and Russia, but a full-scale war in Europe,” he added.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken told Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday that "further invasion of Ukraine would be met with swift and severe consequences and urged Russia to pursue a diplomatic path".
“If president Putin truly does not intend war or regime change, the secretary told foreign minister Lavrov then this is the time to pull back troops and heavy weaponry and engage in a serious discussion,” a senior state department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki was also in Kyiv on Tuesday, as Ukraine, Poland and Britain planned to unveil a new three-way agreement on deeper co-operation.
Mr Morawiecki announced that Warsaw would provide arms and ammunition, humanitarian aid and energy assistance to Kyiv, and said that “a sovereign Ukraine is in the interests of the whole of Europe.”