Russia accused the West on Thursday of plotting “provocations” in Ukraine even as it blames Moscow of planning aggressive military action in the neighboring country.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova alleged that Ukrainian and Western claims of an imminent Russian attack on Ukraine were a “cover for staging large-scale provocations of their own, including those of military character.”
“They may have extremely tragic consequences for the regional and global security,” Zakharova said.
She pointed to the delivery of weapons to Ukraine by British military transport planes in recent days, claiming that Ukraine perceives Western military assistance as a “carte blanche for a military operation in Donbas.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the U.S. threat of a possible Russian cutoff from the global banking system could encourage hawkish forces in Ukraine to use force to reclaim control of the rebel east. “It may implant false hopes in the hotheads of some representatives of the Ukrainian leadership who may decide to quietly restart a civil war in their country,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
Donbas, located in eastern Ukraine, is under control of Russia-backed separatists who have fought Ukrainian forces for nearly eight years, a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.
Ukraine said earlier this week that it has taken the delivery of anti-tank missiles from the U.K. It has rejected Moscow’s claims that it plans an offensive to reclaim control of separatist-held areas in the country’s eastern industrial heartland.
Ukraine’s government, the U.S. and its NATO allies have expressed intensifying concerns in recent weeks over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine.
The concentration of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western fears that Moscow is poised to attack its neighbor. U.S. President Joe Biden said Wednesday he thinks Russia will invade Ukraine and warned President Vladimir Putin that his country would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible cutoff from the global banking system if it does.
Moscow has repeatedly denied having plans to launch an offensive. But it has sought a set of security guarantees from the West that would exclude NATO’s expansion to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations and the deployment of alliance weapons there.
Washington and its allies firmly rejected Moscow’s demands in security talks last weeks, but kept the door open to possible further talks on arms control and confidence-building measures to reduce the potential for hostilities.
Amid the tensions, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Ukraine Wednesday to reassure it of Western support. He traveled to Berlin on Thursday to meet with his British, French and German counterparts to discuss Ukraine and other security matters.
Blinken is set to deliver a speech on the Ukraine crisis later Thursday in the German capital before flying on to Geneva, where he will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to arrive Thursday in Poland, a European Union member that has long supported Ukraine’s efforts to move closer to the democratic Western world.
Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said in a Thursday morning radio interview that Poland is offering its political and diplomatic support to Ukraine, but he would not say whether military aid would be extended amid the Russian troop buildup.
“We are aware of how serious the situation is, hence our diplomatic activity,” Przydacz said on Radio RMF FM from the southern Polish city of Wisla, where Zelenskyy will visit Poland’s President Andrzej Duda through Friday.
The White House said Friday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that Russia had already deployed operatives to rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine to carry out acts of sabotage there and blame them on Ukraine in a “false-flag operation” to create a pretext for possible invasion, the claim Russia has rejected as “total disinformation.”
In a move that further beefs up forces near Ukraine, Russia has sent an unspecified number of troops from the country’s far east to its ally Belarus, which shares a border with Ukraine, for major war games that run through Feb. 20. Ukrainian officials have said that Moscow could use Belarusian territory to launch a potential multi-pronged invasion.
Polish Defense Minister said that along with offering support for Ukraine, Poland is reinforcing its own military capabilities.
“A firm policy is the best argument to an aggressive Russian policy, which is not something new, and an appropriate reaction is important,” Blaszczak said.