UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Friday warned that it would be catastrophic if the Russia-Ukraine conflict escalated into a war, while underlining that there was no alternative to diplomacy.
On Friday, Russia announced nuclear drills, even as leaders of nations from the West looked for ways to ease the tensions.
According to US estimates, Russia has amassed between 169,000 and 190,000 personnel in and near Ukraine, up from about 100,000 on January 30.
With a concentration of Russian troops around Ukraine, I am deeply concerned about heightened tensions and increased speculation about a military conflict in Europe. I still think it will not happen. But if it did, it would be catastrophic, Guterres said in his remarks to the opening segment of the Munich Security Conference Friday, an event that was conspicuous by the absence of leaders from Moscow.
The UN chief underlined that there is no alternative to diplomacy and all issues, "including the most intractable, must be addressed through diplomatic frameworks.
It's high time to seriously de-escalate, he said.
Urging "all parties to be extremely careful with their rhetoric, Guterres cautioned that public statements should aim to reduce tensions, not inflame them.
US Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday heralded NATO unity during the escalating crisis and warned Russia that the US and Western allies stood ready to respond with tough sanctions if Russian President Vladimir Putin moves forward with an invasion of Ukraine.
Denish Pushilin, the head of the separatist government in the Donetsk region in Ukraine has announced on Friday the evacuation of civilians to Russia amid soaring tensions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, stopping over in New York on Thursday before heading to the Munich Conference, outlined at a UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Ukraine.
Blinken told the Council that over the past months, without provocation or justification, Russia has amassed more than 150,000 troops around Ukraine's borders.
Russia says it's drawing down those forces. We do not see that happening on the ground. Our information indicates clearly that these forces including ground troops, aircraft, ships are preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days, he said.
Blinken said while we don't know precisely how things will play out, he warned that Russia plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack, that could include a fabricated so-called terrorist bombing inside Russia or a fake, even a real, attack using chemical weapons.
Russia's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Vershinin, responding to Blinken's provocations as alleged pretexts for attacking Ukraine, said "such baseless insinuations cause "our deepest regret.
Besides, as I said, they are dangerous because they add tension to the already tense atmosphere. But those are words.
Vershinin said the Western states should resist the temptation of turning the UNSC meeting into a platform for baseless and aggressive rhetoric to feed the TV cameras, and that they will abstain from making unsubstantiated allegations that Russia is allegedly going to attack Ukraine.
The alleged invasion date that you announced has already passed, so perhaps you'd better stop putting yourselves in an awkward situation, he said.
Guterres cautioned that miscommunication or miscalculation can make a minor incident between powers escalate out of control, causing incalculable harm.
He added that the United Nations system remains fully operational in Ukraine, including its humanitarian work in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
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