Russia now has over 150,000 troops near Ukraine, U.S. official says, amid reports of more attacks
The Ukrainian government and Russian state-controlled media exchanged fresh accusations of ceasefire violations near the country’s eastern border on Friday.
In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation said 20 ceasefire violations had been recorded in eastern Ukraine on Friday as of 9 a.m. local time.
The JFO alleged that 15 of those violations included the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements, which Russia, Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists signed in 2014 and 2015 to prevent a war in eastern Ukraine. No fatalities were reported.
Ukraine also claimed that separatist forces were “placing their artillery systems near residential buildings.” United forces control the situation and respond appropriately to potential threats from the enemy,” the JFO added.
Meanwhile, Russian state-controlled media agency RIA claimed on Friday that Ukrainian government forces had launched three shelling strikes against Russian-backed separatists.
CNBC was unable to verify either report. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Thursday said its mission in Ukraine had reported almost 600 ceasefire violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, substantially higher than the 153 violations reported during the previous period.
The east of Ukraine, near the Russian border, has long been the scene of low-level fighting. The OSCE has regularly reported violations of the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine during the eight-year conflict, in which around 13,000 people have died.
Russian officials reportedly circulated a document at the U.N. council meeting on Thursday which Reuters reported made allegations that war crimes had been committed in Ukraine, and accused the Ukrainian government of “exterminating the civilian population” in the country’s east.
A U.S. official dubbed those accusations as “categorically false,” according to Reuters.
It came after the Ukrainian government and Russian state media made contradictory accusations about shelling strikes on Thursday, with a school and a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine being hit by attacks.
The U.S. has warned that Russia could use false claims, including claims about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as a pretext for an invasion.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnsonalso said on Thursday that the shelling in eastern Ukraine was a “false flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians.” He warned that more of this was likely in the coming days.
Russia has repeatedly denied that it intends to invade Ukraine, despite having amassed more than 150,000 troops, military hardware and even fresh blood supplies at the border in recent months.
Moscow has claimed this week that its soldiers have begun to withdraw from their temporary posts at the border with Ukraine. However, Western officials have cast doubt on those claims, saying that intelligence in fact suggests more troops have joined those already at the border in recent days.
‘Moment of peril’
Speaking at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that “this is a moment of peril for the lives and safety of millions of people.”
He added that U.S. information clearly indicated that Russian forces were preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days, emphasizing that Moscow “plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack.”
“This could be a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine, or an outrageous accusation that Russia will level against the Ukrainian government,” he said, noting that a staged military strike against civilians could be one of the methods the Kremlin uses to achieve this end.
Blinken also said that if Russia launched an invasion, its tanks and soldiers would be likely to advance on key targets including the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which has a population of 2.8 million people.
U.S. President Joe Biden will meet with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the U.K., the EU and NATO on Friday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.
While Russian and American officials are expected to meet next week.
Russia has demanded that Ukraine never become a member of NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance, and wants the organization to scale back its presence in eastern Europe. Both the U.S. and NATO have rejected those requests.