Russian President Vladimir Putin is witnessing large-scale military maneuvers and missile tests on Saturday, with the risk increasing further as the United States believes that Russia has decided to immediately occupy Ukraine and that incidents on the front lines are accumulating.
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Fears of a Russian offensive have increased amid mounting ceasefire violations between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced a “dramatic increase” in these violations on Saturday. According to them, the number of armed incidents before July 2020, when the agreement to strengthen the ceasefire was reached, is now at the forefront.
Russia’s state-run Ria Novosti said Friday that two explosions, including an oil pipeline, had taken place in the separatist-held city of Lukansk in eastern Ukraine. Authorities in pro-Russian separatist areas have also ordered the deportation of civilians to Russia.
The Kremlin continues to deny any intention of attacking its neighbors, but demands guarantees for Russia’s security, such as the withdrawal of NATO from Eastern Europe, which the West has refused.
On Friday, US President Joe Biden said he was “confident” that Vladimir Putin had decided to invade Ukraine, and that the escalation of the conflict was aimed at creating a “false justification” for launching an attack in the coming week or so.
But he opened the door to conversation. Until the invasion, he said, “diplomacy is always possible,” announcing a meeting next Thursday between his foreign minister, Anthony Blinken, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zhelensky will travel to Munich on Saturday to meet with Western leaders, including US Vice President Kamala Harris. Mr. Mr. Zhelensky’s trip abroad would not have been “(…) a wise choice” at this time. This is despite Biden warning.
Washington estimates that Russia has 190,000 troops in the suburbs of Ukraine and along its borders, including separatist forces. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said it was “the greatest concentration of military troops” since the Cold War, and ruled that Moscow could “strike without further warning.”
The Pentagon said on Friday that 40% to 50% of these Russian troops were “under attack” and that the front line clashes were part of an initial “campaign for instability in Ukraine” for an invasion.
Russia has not released the number of its troops concentrated on Ukraine’s borders or its involvement in maneuvers in neighboring Belarus.
Mr. The Russian Defense Ministry announced that Putin would personally monitor the situation on Saturday.
The exercises will mobilize troops from the Southern Army District, the Air Force, the Northern and Black Sea Fleet and the “Strategic Forces”. The latter includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, submarines, surface ships and naval aircraft carrying conventional missiles.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was a “routine training process”.
Western nations have unanimously pledged to impose catastrophic sanctions on Moscow in the event of an invasion of Ukraine. They will make Russia a “baria” and beat up a US official on Friday.
But Vladimir Putin again rejected the threat: “Sanctions will be introduced anyway. For whatever reason, they will find one because their purpose is to slow down Russia’s growth.
Throughout the day on Friday, soldiers in eastern Ukraine accused each other of violating the ceasefire and using heavy weapons. AFP reports that the blast was still heard in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Stanitza Lukanska. He was already targeted by shots that hit a nursery school on Thursday.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament, promised that Russia would “protect” Russian citizens living in separatist territories in Ukraine if their lives were threatened.
“If war breaks out, Europe will become a battleground,” he warned.