Fighting in Ukraine could open the door to Russian aggression, US warns

STANYTSIA LUHANSKA, Ukraine – Residents near Ukraine’s front lines flocked to basements for shelter on Thursday as artillery exchanges with Russian-backed separatists reached their most intense in months, An ominous development amid Western concerns that Russia could use the fighting as a pretext to invade Ukraine.

When the United States and Russia exchanged conflicting accounts about whether Russian forces were actually withdrawing from the Ukrainian border, as Moscow has emphasized, the separatists claimed that they had been shot from Ukraine. That is exactly what Western officials have warned Russia could try to use to justify military action.

At the White House, President Biden said “all of our signs are that they’re going to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine.” He said the United States had “reason to believe” Russia was “engaging in a false flag operation to provide an excuse to infiltrate.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken made an unscheduled trip to New York, where he told the United Nations Security Council that American intelligence “clearly indicates” that Russian forces surrounded the country from three “is preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days.”

Escalating tensions pervaded markets, where stock prices plunged.

On Thursday, Russia continued to emphasize that it had no plans to invade, giving a fresh update on the troop withdrawal and dismissing the US invasion warning as “information terrorism”.

The Russian government also announced a lengthy response to US proposals made last month to defuse tensions, perpetuate the Kremlin’s efforts to regain its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and raise alarms. vague reports of new military deployments. If the United States does not comply with its requests, “Russia will be forced to respond, including by taking military-technical measures,” the document said.

In eastern Ukraine on Thursday, where a kindergarten was shelled, increased violence evoked the scenario Western leaders have warned against amid the massive Russian military surrounding Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir V. Putin this week repeated his false claim that Ukraine is carrying out a “genocide” against Russian-speaking people in the east of the country, while Russian authorities announced a investigation into the “mass grave” of Russian-speaking victims of Ukrainian forces.

And on Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov made an ominous assessment. “The excessive concentration of Ukrainian forces near the lines of communication, coupled with provocations, can pose a terrible danger,” he said.

Mr. Blinken told the Security Council that Moscow appeared to be setting the stage.

“Russia plans to create a pretext for its attack, under the pretext of a so-called “terrorist bombing” or “a fake, even real” chemical weapons attack, he said. “This could be a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine,” he said, “or an outrageous accusation that Russia will be on par with the Ukrainian government.”

If so, it won’t be the first time.

When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it did so after claiming that Russian-speaking people there were threatened by the pro-Western revolution in Kyiv, which the Kremlin described as a coup d’etat. acid. And in 2008, Russia invaded Georgia after the Georgian Army entered the Russian-backed separatist enclave there.

Fighting in Eastern Europe between Ukrainian forces and Kremlin-backed separatists has been around for a long time, but Thursday’s violence was the worst since a ceasefire was reached two years ago.

The warriors exchanged not only shells, but also accusations. Ukraine’s military said three adult civilians were wounded at the kindergarten, and on the other side, a Russian-backed separatist leader claimed Ukraine had fired “barbaric and treacherous” mortars.

The artillery battle began early in the morning and did not end with the arrival of evening. Explosions rang out from the buildings and flashes of light from the shells cast the silhouettes of the trees.

The dizzying days are unmistakable with the volatility of a crisis that US officials fear could lead to an attack by one of the world’s most powerful militaries against Ukraine, a nation Europe’s second largest country, a young European development. never thought they would see.

In Moscow, however, many analysts still believe that Putin’s troop buildup is a hoax – a means to pressure the West to remove Ukraine’s membership in NATO and force the alliance. withdrew its presence in Eastern Europe.

Whatever his true intentions, the diplomatic and military crisis has turned into a fierce battle over public messages, with both Moscow and Washington deploying vivid images and words. act to discredit the other party.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said at a meeting with his NATO counterparts in Brussels that Russia continues to send troops closer to the Ukrainian border. He said they are also adding more fighters and stocking up on blood supplies to prevent casualties on the battlefield.

Mr. Austin, a retired four-star army general, said: “I know ahead of time that you don’t do things like that for no reason. “And you certainly wouldn’t do them if you were ready to pack up and go home.”

Although some 150,000 Russian troops are besieging Ukraine, Russia has deployed no more than military exercises. On Thursday, international reporters were invited to visit Belarus – a close ally of the Kremlin – to see for themselves. There, amid the roar of Russian and Belarusian fire, they were faced with some mocking comments directed at Western intelligence agencies by Belarus’s powerful leader, Aleksandr G. Lukashenko.

“There will be no invasion tomorrow,” Lukashenko said as the drills were held at a deserted military training ground southeast of Minsk, the country’s capital. “Are you still entertained with this crazy idea?”

Mr Lukashenko is scheduled to meet Mr Putin in Moscow on Friday and pledge that he is ready to keep Russian troops in his country “as long as necessary”.

Western officials say the concentration of Russian troops in Belarus is part of the reason that the current threat of aggression is so serious, allowing the Kremlin to attack from the north as well as from mainland Russia to the east. and from Crimea and the Black Sea to the south.

A key question now is whether Russia will continue to engage diplomatically with the West. While Mr. Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov have held a series of meetings and calls with their Western counterparts in recent weeks, such interactions are unlikely to occur in the coming days.

Blinken said that the State Department was “evaluating” the document Russia delivered to Washington on Thursday and that he had suggested to Lavrov that the two meet in Europe next week. Russian officials did not confirm that the minister would accept the meeting.

A senior Russian Foreign Ministry official said: “Blinken hasn’t even read Russia’s response and he called Lavrov to a meeting. “What will they talk about?”

The document indicates that there is only a narrow diplomatic path forward.

It says an American proposal allows Russia to check the US missile defense base in Poland and Romania that the Kremlin considers a threat that can “be considered further.” It also said that Russia saw “the potential for mutually acceptable agreements” on the subject of long-range bomber flights near national borders. And it said that Russia was “open in principle” to a discussion of surrogacy the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treatya landmark 1987 nuclear arms control treaty that the Trump administration abandoned in 2019, after accusing Russia of violating the treaty.

But Moscow insists that those elements can only be agreed upon as part of a package that addresses Russia’s central requirements.

“We welcome the readiness of the United States for appropriate consultations,” the document said. “However, this work cannot replace the resolution of key issues posed by Russia.”

Among Russia’s demands is for NATO troops to cease all cooperation with Ukraine and remove all Western weapons delivered to the country in recent years to help it fight Russia and Russian-backed separatists. contradiction. The document also echoes Russia’s central requirements for “security guarantees” that Putin first described last November, including NATO assurances that Ukraine will never join the alliance. alliance and will withdraw troops stationed in the countries participating in the alliance after 1997.

“Red lines” and our fundamental security interests are being ignored, and Russia’s inviolable right to secure them is being denied, the document says.

Western leaders have rejected requests to withdraw troops or ban certain countries from NATO, but have hint of possibility of Ukraine itself sworn to renounce membership in the union.

And while the letter reiterates recent denials by Russian officials of any plans to invade Ukraine, it also warns of an unspecified military response if those demands are not met. one that analysts see as the potential to deploy advanced missile systems in a new, more threatening attack posture.

No ‘Russian invasion of Ukraine’, which the United States and its allies have officially announced since last fall, is taking place, nor is it one of them, the document says. plans.” But if the United States does not provide “firm, legally binding guarantees of our security,” “Russia will be forced to respond, including by implementing military-technical measures”.

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Stanytsia Luhanska, Ukraine, and Anton Troianovski from Moscow. Fighting in Ukraine could open the door to Russian aggression, US warns

Fry Electronics Team

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