Zelensky told reporters after a meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson that he believes a Russia-Ukraine conflict would have implications for Europe.
“Russians need to hear us, they need to listen and they need to understand that no one needs war. But we aren’t inviting to our land anyone armed. I can say for sure that the nation has changed, society has changed, the army has changed, there’ve been many different changes,” Zelensky said during a joint press conference, according to state media outlet Ukrinform.
“Now there will be no occupation of any city or territory. It will be, unfortunately, a tragedy if a major escalation against our country kicks off. So I say, frankly, that this won’t be a war between Ukraine and Russia; this will be a war in Europe, a full-scale war. That’s because no one will be giving up on any of its territories and people,” Zelensky warned.
Western officials estimate Russia has amassed about 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border, while Ukrainian officials have estimated as many as 127,000 Russian troops stationed at the border.
Top U.S. General Mark Milley this week described Russia’s troop build-up near Ukraine as the largest since the Cold War.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials said Wednesday that the United States will send nearly 3,000 extra troops to Poland and Romania to shield Eastern Europe from a potential spillover from the crisis over the massing of Russian troops.
Zelensky, who has repeatedly played down the prospect of an imminent invasion, signed a decree to boost his armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years. He urged lawmakers to stay calm and avoid panic.
The troop increase was “not because we will soon have a war … but so that soon and in the future, there will be peace in Ukraine,” Zelensky said.
Russia has denied it is planning an invasion but has demanded that NATO pull back troops and weapons from Eastern Europe and bar its neighbor Ukraine, a former Soviet state, from ever joining the alliance. Washington and its NATO allies reject that position but say they are ready to discuss other topics such as arms control and confidence-building measures.
Russia seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and Ukraine’s Donbas region has since seen violence that has taken more than 14,000 lives. The region is now under de facto control by Russia-backed separatists.
Reuters contributed to this report.