The United States said Thursday that Russia is on the verge of unleashing a massive military attack against Ukraine, dismissing Moscow’s claim to be pulling forces back, as artillery fire hit a Ukrainian kindergarten.
In a dramatic, previously unscheduled speech to the United Nations in New York, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said intelligence showed Moscow could order an assault on its neighbor in the “coming days.”
With US and other Western governments saying they see no evidence to support Russia’s claim to be withdrawing, Blinken challenged the Kremlin to “announce today with no qualification, equivocation or deflection that Russia will not invade Ukraine. State it clearly. State it plainly to the world.”
“Demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, your planes, back to their barracks and hangers, and sending your diplomats to the negotiating table,” he said.
Russia denies any invasion plans but warned of “military-technical measures” if its far-reaching demands for a US and NATO pullback from eastern Europe aren’t satisfied.
President Joe Biden, at the White House, accused Moscow of preparing a “false flag operation” as a pretext for an attack and said this could happen “in the next several days.”
“They have not moved any of their troops out. They’ve moved more troops in,” Biden said. “Every indication we have is that they’re prepared to go into Ukraine.”
He added, however, that diplomacy is not dead. “There is a path. There is a way through this,” he said.
Russia has massed enormous air, land and sea forces around Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin and officials say they do not plan to invade Ukraine and that the troops are only conducting practice exercises.
However, Putin has made clear that the price for removing any threat would be Ukraine agreeing never to join NATO and for the Western alliance to pull back from a swath of eastern Europe, effectively splitting the continent into Cold War-style spheres of influence. Ukraine is far from being ready to join NATO but has set this as part of a broader goal to integrate with the democracies of western Europe, making a historic break from Russia’s orbit.
The United States said Thursday that it had received Putin’s response to its offers of a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but did not give any reaction to the contents.
Russia expelled the number two US diplomat in Moscow, the US State Department said, condemning the “unprovoked” action.
With inputs from NDTV