KYIV, Ukraine – Tensions between Russia and the West increased on Friday as Moscow announced plans to test nuclear-capable missiles and host NATO war games in Belarus, while the United States said Many Russian forces continue to take positions threatening Ukraine in a crisis that threatens to erupt into the biggest conflict in Europe in decades.
As President Biden prepared to speak to NATO allies on Friday, US officials said up to 190,000 Russian troops were stationed in and near Ukraine, a number that includes Russian-backed separatists. conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Officials also repeated warnings that Moscow would try to create a provocation by Ukraine to justify an invasion of its smaller neighbour.
Mr. Biden will speak publicly about US military build-up and diplomatic efforts Friday afternoon following his conversations with NATO leaders, the administration said.
Concerns about such “false flags” incidents escalated when a separatist leader claimed without evidence in a video message on Friday that a Ukrainian military strike would be imminent. took place and called on people in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic to evacuate. to Russia.
Ukraine’s defense and foreign ministers were quick to dismiss claims of an impending Ukrainian attack as fabricated to inflame tensions and justify Russia’s military action.
The separatist leader’s message after ramping up shelling along the front lines between Ukraine and Russia-backed rebels, highlighted ominous signs that a conflict has been simmering for years. could become the trigger for a larger-scale war.
However, consistent with Russia’s conflicting messaging throughout the crisis, Putin said on Friday that Russia was prepared for further diplomacy and that President Biden’s secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, accepted an invitation to meet with Secretary of State Sergey V. next week. Lavrov. The announcement of the meeting calmed jittery markets and showed that there is still hope for the crisis to be resolved without war.
However, Putin stressed that Russia will continue to insist on far-reaching demands for “security guarantees” in Eastern Europe that the West has rejected – such as the cessation of NATO expansion to the east and the withdrawal of military forces. alliance’s volume from the region. .
“We are ready to continue negotiations on condition that all questions are considered together, not separately from the main Russian proposals,” Putin told a news conference with his close ally, Russia. Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who visited Moscow.
The Biden administration has said it believes Russia is ready to invade Ukraine within the next few days. Although Moscow insists it has no such plan, it has vowed to deliver “a tough response” if the United States and its NATO partners do not return to their presence in Eastern Europe. .
In a show of strength, Russia will conduct major exercises this weekend including the launch of ballistic and cruise missiles, according to Interfax news agency.
Russia’s exercises will test the country’s strategic nuclear forces, including Land-based launchers, bombers and warships are used to deliver nuclear weapons. They will include the Black Sea Fleet, which has participated in large-scale exercises in the area bordering Ukraine. Putin will preside over them from a “situational center”, the Kremlin said.
The Defense Ministry said the drills were planned in advance, and Peskov denied that they were intended to increase tensions. But they will come at a crucial moment in the game against Ukraine.
Unpleasant calm settled in eastern Ukraine on Friday after a night engulfed by explosions and gunfire in 30 villages and towns along the 250-mile stretch of land separating Ukrainian and Russian forces. backing. Although periodic gun exchanges were not uncommon during the eight-year trench war, that violence was on an increasingly high scale.
As events unfold, officials in Russia, the United States, and Ukraine are trying to shape the narrative.
US officials said they were “watching closely” out of concern that Russia could use violence in eastern Ukraine as a pretext to invade Ukraine. Mr Blinken told the UN Security Council on Thursday that Russia was planning to “make up an excuse for its attack”, which could be “a so-called terrorist bombing” or “a mock attack”. , even real” with chemical weapons.
On Friday, Lavrov said he had blamed Ukrainian forces for the “strong increase in shelling in eastern Ukraine”, and said a monitoring mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe led to conceal evidence of Ukrainian aggression.
“The Kyiv regime has been violating its responsibilities for several years,” he said.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/18/world/europe/after-a-night-of-heavy-shelling-tensions-simmer-in-eastern-ukraine-as-crisis-deepens.html Russia sends mixed signals as tensions rise.