The United States delivered some of its harshest and most explicit warnings yet about how a Russian invasion of Ukraine may play out, and its Western allies were on high alert for any attempts by the Kremlin to establish a bogus pretext for a new European war.
President Joe Biden sounded particularly pessimistic on Thursday, warning that there were no evidence of the promised Russian pullout, but that additional troops were heading toward the Ukrainian border, implying that Moscow may invade within days.
“Every indication we have is that they’re preparing to move into Ukraine and attack Ukraine,” Biden said at the White House to reporters. He stated that the US has “reason to think” that Russia is “engaging in a false flag operation to get a justification to invade,” but did not elaborate.
Western concerns center on an estimated 150,000 Russian troops stationed near Ukraine’s borders, accounting for around 60% of Russia’s total field forces. The Kremlin claims it has no intentions to invade, but it has always regarded Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence and NATO’s eastward expansion as a danger to its existence. In this situation, one of the most important demands is that NATO vow never to allow Ukraine to join.
Biden intended to talk with trans-Atlantic leaders by phone on Friday about Russia’s military buildup and ongoing deterrence and diplomatic efforts.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken presented certain intelligence findings as part of a strategy to expose and thwart any invasion plans. The US has withheld most of the material that supports its accusations.
At the United Nations, Blinken told diplomats. The attack would begin with a sudden, supposedly violent occurrence engineered by Russia to justify an invasion, according to the Security Council. Blinken cited a “so-called terrorist blast” within Russia, a staged drone strike, “a phony, even a genuine attack… employing chemical weapons,” among other things.
He predicted the invasion will begin with hacking, followed by missile strikes and bombings across Ukraine. Blinken recounted Russian forces entering Kyiv, a metropolis of over 3 million people, and other vital targets.
According to a Western person aware with intelligence results, by Thursday evening, US and European authorities were on high alert for any Russian attempts to construct a pretext for invasion. According to the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, Ukrainian government officials shared intelligence with allies that suggested the Russians might try to shell the Luhansk area in the disputed Donbas region on Friday morning in an attempt to create a false reason to take military action.
On Thursday, violence erupted in a long-running stalemate in that area, raising fears that it may trigger a larger battle. Since 2014, the region has been the scene of warfare that has claimed the lives of 14,000 people.
Separatists in the Luhansk area say Ukrainian army firing has increased along the tight line of contact. According to separatist spokesman Rodion Miroshnik, rebel soldiers retaliated with fire.
Ukraine refuted the report, claiming that rebels bombarded its soldiers but that they did not respond. Shells hit a kindergarten in Stanytsia Luhanska, hurting two teachers and knocking off electricity to half of the town, according to the Ukrainian military command.
The kindergarten bombardment, according to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is a “major provocation” by pro-Russian militants.
“We have consistently warned that the disproportionate buildup of Ukrainian armed troops in the near proximity of the line of demarcation, along with possible provocations, might pose a catastrophic risk,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov responded.
Western nations raced to prevent or prepare for an invasion.
NATO military ministers reviewed measures to strengthen defenses in Eastern Europe, while EU leaders debated how to respond if Russia invades. Blinken and Vice President Kamala Harris are among the political, military, and diplomatic officials travelling to Munich for an annual security conference that will include urgent crisis meetings. Next week, Blinken will meet with his Russian colleague.
China, a major Russian ally, accused the US of “sensationalizing and exacerbating tensions” by “playing up and sensationalizing the problem.” The US should “take seriously and resolve Russia’s legitimate and reasonable concerns on security guarantee,” according to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin questioned Russia’s troop withdrawal claims at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“Some of those troops have been moving closer to the border. “We’re seeing them in more combat and support aircraft,” he explained. “In the Black Sea, we see them sharpening their preparedness.” They’re even storing up on blood supplies. You don’t do things like this for no reason, and you certainly don’t do them as you prepare to pack your belongings and return home.”
The West has observed “an increase of troops up to 7,000 in the previous 48 hours,” according to British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. That matched what a senior US government official had indicated the day before.
Russia claims that the withdrawal, which was announced earlier this week, will take time. Russia also made a new diplomatic outreach on Thursday, responding to US requests to speak about missile deployment limits in Europe, military practice restrictions, and other confidence-building measures.
The Foreign Ministry’s reaction condemned the West’s reluctance to accept Russia’s primary security demands and stated that if the US and its allies continue to ignore Moscow’s concerns, Moscow will take unspecified “military-technical actions.”
At the same time, it stated that Russia was willing to negotiate missile deployment limits, as well as restrictions on strategic bomber patrol flights and other measures.