Hours after he issued a global statement saying he had heard Russia would attack his country on Feb. 16, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a clarification of his prediction Monday, explaining that he was referring only to media reports of a possible attack.
The earlier statement spooked the markets and led to widespread headlines and media reports.
“We are told that February 16 will be the day of the attack,” Zelenskyy said in a video statement posted on Facebook.
However, after his comments were taken by many at face value, his spokesman, Sergii Nykyforov, said that the president, who is a former comedian, was only saying what has been reported elsewhere.
“The president referred to a date that was spread by the media,” the spokesman told NBC News.
Some observers said Zelenskyy appeared to Ukrainian speakers to have been sarcastic when discussing the possible date of an attack.
In another sign of the spiraling tensions, the United States is moving its embassy from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv to the western city of Lviv “due to the dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday.
Zelenskyy has often taken a cooler tone about the likelihood of a Russian invasion, which the U.S. and its allies believe is a distinct possibility in the coming days.
Russia, which has stationed some 130,000 troops as well as tanks and other military units near Ukraine’s borders, denies it is planning to invade its former Soviet republic again.
The embassy move is a sign of how seriously the U.S. and others are taking the Russian threat.
“I have ordered these measures for one reason — the safety of our staff — and we strongly urge any remaining U.S. citizens in Ukraine to leave the country immediately,” Blinken said.
In an interview on MSNBC, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said Monday that there is “a very small number of people” in the embassy and warned that the U.S. would not be able to keep Americans safe amid an invasion.
“So, we want to make sure that we get Americans out of Ukraine because if the invasion comes, you know, we don’t really have any way to protect them,” Smith said. comes, you know, we don’t really have any way to protect them,” Smith said.