By Matthew Chance, Vasco Cotovio and Joshua Berlinger, CNN
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday other world leaders have been overstating the likelihood of war between his country and Russia, causing “panic” and destabilizing Kyiv’s economy.
Speaking to foreign reporters Friday, Zelensky said he explained in phone calls to world leaders like US President Joe Biden and France’s Emmanuel Macron that, though the threat from the Kremlin is “imminent and constant,” Ukrainians have “learned to live” with it since Moscow invaded in 2014.
“They are saying tomorrow is the war. This means panic,” Zelensky said.
Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on its border with Ukraine, prompting fears that Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning an incursion. Russia has repeatedly denied it plans to invade its western neighbor.
The exact severity of the threat posed by Russia remains unclear and has reportedly been a point of contention between Zelensky and Biden.
Their conversation Thursday purportedly did not go well, a senior Ukrainian official told CNN. On the call, which the Ukrainian official described as “long and frank,” Biden was said to have warned that a Russian invasion was now virtually certain and imminent, while Zelensky restated his position that the threat from Russia remains “dangerous but ambiguous.”
The White House disputed that account and said that anonymous sources were “leaking falsehoods.” A spokeswoman said Biden warned Zelensky that an invasion in February was what she called a “distinct possibility.”
When asked about his conversation with Biden, Zelensky thanked the US President for his support, but said the Russian troop build-up was not much more significant than what he had seen in the past.
“I’m the President of Ukraine, I’m based here, and I think I know the details deeper than any other President,” Zelensky said. “We don’t have any misunderstandings with President Biden. I just deeply understand what is going on in my country just as he understands perfectly well what’s going on in the United States.”
“I’m not being critical of President Biden,” Zelensky added.
All sides appear to be holding out for a diplomatic solution, despite the disagreements. Zelensky said he was willing to meet with Putin for a serious conversation and suggested that Biden set up a platform for dialogue between Washington, Kyiv and Moscow.
“People don’t understand the value of human life and that’s what it’s about. I do support serious dialogue,” Zelensky said.
The ball, right now, appears to be in the Kremlin’s court. The US and NATO submitted separate written responses to Russia’s publicly aired concerns on Wednesday, an overture that Moscow had requested.
While the US did not disclose what was in the document, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that it contained “our own proposals for areas where we may be able to find common ground.”
Blinken also said that “there will be no change” to NATO’s “open-door policy,” leaving the US at odds with Russia’s demand that NATO commit to never admitting Ukraine to the alliance.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the document failed to address Russia’s primary concerns, though he said there was hope for a “serious conversation, but on secondary topics.”
“The main issue is our clear position on the inadmissibility of further expansion of NATO to the East and the deployment of strike weapons that could threaten the territory of the Russian Federation,” Lavrov said.
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CNN’s Jeremy Herb and contributed to this report.