President Joe Biden stated Thursday that the Russian threat to invade Ukraine was "very serious" after the United States and its allies warned Moscow they were trying to create an excuse for an attack following shelling in the country’s east.
Biden spoke to reporters on the White House lawn and said that Moscow could invade its neighbor "in a matter of days."
He stated that "we have reason to believe they are engaged in false flag operations to have an excuse for going in." "Every indication that we have is that they are ready to invade Ukraine and attack Ukraine," he said.
Biden's remarks came after Kyiv stated that Russian-backed separatists had been responsible for "a big provocation" following the shelling at a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine. Fears of a new, deadly outbreak of war in Europe were further fuelled by the flare-up in the ongoing conflict.
Tensions did not ease after the West challenged Moscow's claims of an army pullback near Ukraine's borders. The Kremlin expelled a senior U.S. diplomat, and delivered a sharp response against Washington regarding the Russian security requirements at the heart of the crisis.
Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, changed his travel plans last minute to attend a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York.
Blinken stated, "I am not here to start a conflict, but to stop one."
Biden warned, echoing Biden's warning, that U.S intelligence indicated that more than 150,000 Russian soldiers were near Ukraine's border, as well as aircraft, ships and aircraft, and that they "are preparing for an attack against Ukraine within the next days."
Blinken explained what this could look like. He stated that Russia first plans to create a pretext for an attack, and then described a campaign consisting of bombings, cyberattacks, and ground advance on key targets "that have been identified and detailed planned."
Blinken said, "If Russia does not invade Ukraine then we will be relieved because Russia changed course and proved to be wrong our predictions."
However, the hope of a deescalation was fading.
Linda Thomas-Greenfield (ambassador of the United States to the U.N.), told reporters before the meeting that there was evidence that Russia was moving towards an invasion.
The Russian response to the U.S. security demands was published by Moscow's foreign ministry. This has been anticipated for several weeks. It condemned the West's refusal of Russia to meet its core demands and stated again that it could take unspecified military-technical steps if the U.S. or its allies continue to block the Kremlin from expressing concern.
The U.S. announced Thursday that the second-most senior American diplomat at the American Embassy Moscow was expelled in a surprising move. A spokesperson for the State Department said that the decision to expel Bart Gorman (the U.S. Deputy chief of Mission to Russia) was unprovoked and an "escalatory step."
After some optimism earlier in week, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that his country was pulling some troops from Ukraine. He also said that he was open to further talks.
However, Western officials accused Moscow that it was lying about any withdrawal. They claimed that it had in fact contributed to the military buildup which has fuelled the long-running crisis.
Over fears that the conflict in Ukraine's eastern region could escalate into a crisis and a source of escalation in the wider standoff, it has been closely monitored. Although scattered firing is not common in this area, it comes amid warnings from western countries that Russia could stage an "false Flag" operation to justify a new military incursion.
Russia was accused by officials of this Thursday.
"Reports of alleged unusual military activity by Ukraine's Donbas are a blatant effort by the Russian government, to fabricate pretexts in for invasion," British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss tweeted.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, stated that Moscow was "seriously worried" about reports of an escalation. He countered that the West was making unfounded accusations about Moscow's claims about troop withdrawals, according to Reuters.
According to the agency, he said that "they can't just takeoff and fly away." It takes time."
Eight years ago, Russia annexed Crimea in Ukraine and supported separatist forces in its east. This is the current crisis.
Kyiv claimed that a kindergarten under its control in eastern Ukraine was bombarded by heavy artillery weapons early Thursday morning by Moscow-backed separatists. The separatists then accused Ukraine's army firing on the territory.
Three people were reported to have been injured at the kindergarten by the Ukrainian army. Power was also cut in the area. The incident was "a big provocation," President Volodymyr Zeleskyy stated on Twitter.
Reuters reported that separatists from the self-proclaimed "Luhansk People's Republic", accused Ukrainian soldiers of firing four times on their territory in the last 24 hours.
Although details of the incident could not independently be confirmed by NBC News the exact location of the building that was shelled is in Stanytsia Luhanska which is under Ukrainian control. The Russian-backed separatists did not provide any evidence that their territory had been attacked.
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine has been keeping track of the fighting and expressed concern about reports of kindergarten shelling and called for civilian protection.
Since 2014, the Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops at Luhansk and Donetsk. This violence has claimed more than 14,000 lives and is still unresolved. Although there have been several shaky ceasefires in the interim, occasional firings and casualties have not stopped.
Russia has repeatedly denied any plans to launch an attack against its neighbor.