Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Friday publicly downplayed the threat of an imminent Russian invasion, adding to the dissonance between Kyiv and Washington.
His remarks put more daylight between the Ukrainian government and the assessments of U.S. officials, who repeatedly have warned that Moscow could move its troops across the border at any moment.
Speaking at a news conference in Kyiv, Zelenskyy accused Western media reporting of undermining Ukrianians’ faith in their government and stoking economic panic across the nation.
He also said that although Ukrainian officials “don’t have any misunderstandings” with President Joe Biden, “I just deeply understand what is going on in my country, just as [Biden] understands perfectly well what is going on in the United States.”
The blunt responses from the Ukrainian president come after Biden and Zelenskyy participated in a call on Thursday that media accounts have described as tense, with Zelenskyy reportedly challenging Biden’s characterizations of the Russian threat.
Officials in Kyiv and Washington have pushed back against some reports about the conversation.
U.S. officials have recently escalated their warnings about further Russian aggression toward Ukraine, and the State Department has ordered the relatives of U.S. embassy staffers in Ukraine to leave the country.
“We have said since last week that we have seen preparations and buildup at the border and that an invasion could come at any time. Our assessment has not changed since that point,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have urged calm. Zelenskyy said in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday that his government was “strong enough to keep everything under control.”
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov also sought to reassure Ukrainians in a speech to parliament: “Don’t worry, sleep well. No need to have your bags packed.”
But Zelenskyy’s news conference on Friday with members of the international media represented perhaps the Ukrainian government’s greatest distancing yet with the Biden administration and U.S. officials’ messaging.
“We do not see a bigger escalation that it has been before,” Zelenskyy said of Russia’s provocations, adding that he did not think the security situation “is more intense than it was… at the peak time in early 2021.”
In his talks with foreign leaders, Zelenskyy complained that “the image that mass media creates is that we have troops on the roads, we have mobilization, people are leaving for places. That’s not the case. We don’t need this panic.”
As for his conversation with Biden, Zelenskyy said he conveyed to his U.S. counterpart the “need to stabilize the economy” of Ukraine “because of those signals” which indicate a conflict is rapidly approaching.
“These signals were sent by even respected leaders of the respected countries. And sometimes, they’re not even using diplomatic language,” Zelenskyy said. “They’re saying, ‘Tomorrow is the war.’ This means panic in the market. Panic in the financial sector… How much does it cost to our country?”
The Ukrainian people, Zelenskyy continued, “have to be certain and sure in their army, in their president. The people should trust the government… This varied information from varied sources cannot mislead our country.”