Russian tanks appear to pass by Belgorod Reservoir
As investors watch for signs of escalation between Moscow and the West, with leaders hinting an attack from the Kremlin on Kiev could happen as soon as this week, Russian shares are on a freefall. Dow Jones, S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures all dropped again on Monday morning after significant damage last week on the stock market.
While US markets are closed for Presidents’ Day, equity futures are trading – with the Dow Jones Industrial Average featuring a 0.2 percent decline; the S&P 500 a 0.6 drop, and Nasdaq-100 a 1.1 percent fall.
On Sunday night, the potential of a Putin-Biden summit, which the Elysée Palace and the White House said they had agreed “in principle with the Kremlin, resulted in the US stock-index futures trading higher.
However, hopes for such a meeting, which would signal that diplomacy is still prevailing, broke around 3am Eastern Time as Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed there were no “concrete plans” for a meeting between the leaders.
This did anything but echo the words of Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, who said in a statement: “Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov are scheduled to meet later this week in Europe, provided Russia does not proceed with military action.
“President Biden accepted in principle a meeting with President Putin following that engagement, again, if an invasion hasn’t happened.”
As fears of escalation rise; Russian shares fall
Eagerness by France and the US to meet Vladimir Putin comes as the two governments, which have recently been heavily involved in talks over the crisis in Ukraine, grow fearful war could erupt in Eastern Europe.
On Friday, Joe Biden said he was certain about Mr Putin’s plan, claiming: “As of this moment, I am convinced he’s made the decision.”
His assessment, however, contrasts with that of Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who has repeatedly cautioned against overreacting to Moscow’s military build-up.
Even as Western nations accuse Russia of trying to stage a false flag operation to provide a pretext to invade, Mr Zelensky stresses Ukrainians are “not panicking, we want to live our lives”.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who paved the way for further negotiations over the weekend, spoke twice to Mr Putin overnight for a total of nearly three hours, consulting Mr Biden for 15 minutes in between the two calls.
Joe Biden and Emmanuel Macron are both increasingly invested in trying to stop a Russian attack
As Mr Macron desperately attempts to establish a cease-fire, the Kremlin remains firm in stating it has no intention to invade its neighbour.
Speaking during a meeting of Russia’s Security Council in Moscow, Mr Putin said on Monday afternoon his government’s priority was to ensure security guarantees are reached with NATO to maintain peace, “not a confrontation”.
But the “increasing numbers and readiness of Russian forces” suggest an attack is far from ruled out, according to UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who underlined a boost in Russian troop numbers and change in force disposition over the past 48 hours.
Condemning Moscow’s “proliferation of false flag operations, propaganda stunts, and Russian news outlets carrying fictitious allegations”, Mr Wallace urged Mr Putin to “pull back” from his plans for “the sake of his own people”.
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He told Parliament: “These are not the actions of a Russian government fulfilling its repeated declarations that it has no intention of invading Ukraine
“In fact, we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the Russian playbook being implemented in a way that gives a strong cause for concern that President Putin is still committed to an invasion.”
The Russian president, loyal to a months-long narrative, argued the West is “using Ukraine as a tool of confrontation against Russia”, emphasising the admission of Ukraine as a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would pose a security threat to Moscow.
He continued: “In recent months, at the end of last year, we stepped up our efforts with our main partners in Washington and NATO to finally agree security measures and to ensure the peaceful development of our country.
“But we must understand the reality we are living in, and I have said many times already that if Russia faces a threat like admitting Ukraine into NATO, then the threat against our country will be multiplied.”
Adding that “Russia has always tried to resolve all conflicts by peaceful means”, Mr Putin went on to denounce “two punitive operations” in Donetsk and Luhansk, which Ukrainian officials have denied and described as “disinformation” and “deliberate provocations” by the Russian Federation.
Ukraine, which remains surrounded by more than 150,000 Russian troops, continues to ask the West — particularly the European Union — for tougher action.
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said a lot can be done “to send clear messages to Russia” that Kiev has the EU’s support and “Ukraine will not be left on its own.”