President Zelensky asks the West to make no deals ‘behind our back’ as the threat to Ukraine grows.

President Zelensky asks the West to make no deals ‘behind our back’ as the threat to Ukraine grows.

MUNICH — As shelling hammered towns in eastern Ukraine on Saturday and civilians boarded buses to evacuate the region, Russia engaged in a dramatic display of military theater, test-firing ballistic and cruise missiles in a reminder to the West that a conflict over Ukraine could quickly escalate.

In eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have asserted, without evidence, that Ukraine was planning a large-scale attack, separatist leaders urged women and children to evacuate and able-bodied men to prepare to fight.

While Western leaders have dismissed the notion that Ukraine would launch an attack while surrounded by Russian forces, the ginned-up panic was a disturbing sign of what the United States has warned could be a pretext for a Russian invasion. President Biden declared Friday that President Vladimir V. Putin had already decided to invade Ukraine.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, flew to Munich on Saturday to shore up Western support for his threatened nation. Some observers in Washington have expressed concern that his leaving the country at this critical moment could provide an opening for Moscow, which the West believes is intent on toppling Mr. Zelensky’s government.

Mr. Zelensky made an emotional appeal to the West, saying that sanctions against Russia should begin immediately and that there was no point in daily declarations that attacks are imminent, as they are destroying the economy. He added that no deal should be struck with Russia that does not include his nation.

“It’s important for all our partners and friends to not agree about anything behind our back,” he said. “We’re not panicking. We’re very consistent that we are not responding to any provocations.”

Western leaders there displayed a united front and issued repeated calls for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis. Vice President Kamala Harris called the crisis “a defining moment” for European security and the defense of democratic values.

But Mr. Putin sent his own message, presiding over tests of nuclear-capable missiles.

Tensions between the United States and Russia have not been this high since the Cold War, and Russia’s nuclear drills on Saturday appeared carefully timed to deter the West from direct military involvement in Ukraine. In Munich, Ms. Harris warned that if Russia invaded Ukraine, the United States and its allies would target not only financial institutions and technology exports to Russia, but also “those who are complicit and those who aid and direct this unprovoked invasion.”

“Russia continues to claim it is ready for talks, while at the same time it narrows the avenues for diplomacy,” she said. “Their actions simply do not match their words.”

In Ukraine, shelling escalated in the east, where Russian-backed separatists have battled government forces in the last few days.

Artillery fire picked up along the entire length of the frontline, the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior Affairs said on Saturday. The shelling was roughly double the level of the previous two days, the ministry said.

Several intense artillery barrages targeted a pocket of government-controlled territory around the town of Svitlodarsk, a spot that has worried security analysts for weeks for its proximity to dangerous industrial infrastructure, including storage tanks for poisonous gas.

“I have a small baby,” said Nadya Lapygina, a resident of Staryi Aidar, one of several dozen towns hit by artillery and mortar fire on the northern border of the breakaway separatist region of Luhansk. “You have no idea how scary it is to hide him from the shelling.”

There were also alarming signs of what American officials described as possible precursors to a pretext for a Russian invasion. Leaders of Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine issued a call on Saturday for all men in the territory they control to register to fight.

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