- President Joe Biden accused Moscow of preparing a false flag operation.
- Antony Blinken says intelligence showed Moscow could order an attack on its neighbor in the coming days.
- Russia denies invasion plans, but warned of “military-technical measures.
Washington: The United States said on Thursday that Russia is poised to launch a massive military strike against Ukraine, rejecting Moscow’s claim to withdraw troops as artillery fire struck a Ukrainian kindergarten.
In a dramatic, previously unscheduled speech to the United Nations in New York, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said intelligence showed Moscow could order an attack on its neighbor in the coming days.
While the US and other Western governments said they see no evidence to support Russia’s claim to withdraw, Blinken challenged the Kremlin to “announce today without qualification, ambiguity or inference that Russia will not invade Ukraine.” . State it clearly. Say it clearly to the world.”
“Demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, your planes back to their barracks and hangers and sending your diplomats to the negotiating table,” he said.
Russia has denied invasion plans but warned of “military-technical measures” if its far-reaching demands for a US and NATO withdrawal from Eastern Europe are not met.
President Joe Biden accused Moscow at the White House of preparing a “false flag operation” as a pretext for an attack, saying it could happen “in the coming days”.
“They have not moved any of their troops. They’ve brought in more troops,” Biden said. “Every indication we have is that they are ready to enter Ukraine.”
However, he added that diplomacy is not dead. “There is a path. There is a way to get through this,” he said.
Russia has amassed massive air, land and naval forces around Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin and officials say they have no intention of invading Ukraine and that the troops are only conducting training exercises.
However, Putin has made it clear that the price for removing any threat would be Ukraine’s agreement never to join NATO and the Western alliance to withdraw from part of Eastern Europe, effectively putting the continent into the Cold War. -like spheres of influence is split up. Ukraine is far from ready to join NATO, but has made it part of a broader goal of integrating with the democracies of Western Europe and making a historic split with Russia.
The United States said on Thursday that it had received Putin’s response to its offers for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but did not respond to the content.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that there was little to discuss.
“In the absence of will on the US side to negotiate firm and legally binding guarantees for our security from the United States and its allies, Russia will be forced to respond, including with military-technical measures,” the State Department said.
“We are pushing for the withdrawal of all US military forces in Central Europe, Eastern Europe and the Baltic States,” it added.
Russia has also expelled the number two US diplomat in Moscow, the US State Department said, which condemned the “unprovoked” action.
Russia took over Ukraine’s Crimea region and in 2014 began supporting heavily armed separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, sparking a war that has already cost thousands of lives.
In the east, sporadic fighting remains common and the Ukrainian army accused pro-Russian separatists on Thursday of 34 ceasefire violations, 28 of whom used heavy weapons.
The potentially most serious incident — an example of the kind of spark many fear could lead to much more intense fighting — was the shelling of a kindergarten in the village of Stanytsia-Luganska. There were children inside, but no one was hit.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted that the attack “by pro-Russian forces is a major provocation”.
Russian news agencies, meanwhile, quoted authorities in the separatist region of Lugansk as saying they blamed Kiev after the situation on the front lines “escalated significantly”.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described Thursday’s reports as “disturbing”.
“We’ve been saying for a while that the Russians could do something like that to justify a military conflict. So we’ll be watching this closely,” Austin told reporters after meeting with NATO counterparts.
Western capitals also say they are concerned about the Russian parliament’s request to Putin to grant unilateral recognition of separatists’ independence in eastern Ukraine, which is likely to end the country’s chances of reunification.
“If this request were granted, it would be a Russian decision to choose a path of confrontation over dialogue,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said.
Putin earlier this week claimed without any evidence that Ukraine is committing “genocide” in the eastern region.
Moscow made several announcements of troop withdrawals this week and said on Thursday that units from the southern and western military districts, including tank units, had begun to return to their bases away from Ukraine.
Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said some troops had returned to their garrisons in several areas far from the border, including Chechnya and Dagestan in the North Caucasus, and near Nizhny Novgorod, some 300 kilometers away. (185 miles) east of Moscow.
The United States, NATO and Ukraine all said they had seen no evidence of a backlash, while Washington said Russia had in fact moved 7,000 additional troops to the border.
About 150,000 Russian troops are now deployed in offensive groups on Ukraine’s southern, eastern and northern borders, according to US officials.