MOSCOW (AFP) — The Russian military said Monday that it had killed five “saboteurs” who crossed into Russia from Ukraine, the latest claim fueling tensions along Moscow’s border with Ukraine.
The report comes as Kyiv and Washington have accused Russia of plotting “false flag” operations to fake Ukrainian attacks in order to serve as a pretext for an all-out assault.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denied claims of a cross-border attack as well as a string of other claims issued by Russian officials throughout a tense day that has intensified fears that the Kremlin is paving the way for an invasion of Ukraine.
Russian officials had earlier also said that a Ukrainian shell had destroyed a border facility used by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).
“No, Ukraine did NOT: attack Donetsk or Luhansk, send saboteurs or APCs [armored personnel carriers] over the Russian border, shell Russian territory, shell Russian border crossing, conduct acts of sabotage,” Kuleba said in an English-language tweet.
“Ukraine also does NOT plan any such actions. Russia, stop your fake-producing factory now,” he wrote.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that he no longer felt that a key 2015 plan agreed with France, Germany and Kyiv would be able to resolve Ukraine’s separatist conflict.
“We understand that there are no prospects” for the implementation of the 2015 Minsk peace accords, agreed in the capital of Belarus to end fighting between Ukraine’s army and pro-Moscow rebels in the east of the country, Putin told his security council.
Putin also warned that Western powers were using Moscow’s feud with Ukraine to threaten Russia’s own security.
“The use of Ukraine as an instrument of confrontation with our country poses a serious, very big threat to us,” Putin said during a carefully stage-managed meeting of Russia’s national security council, adding that Moscow’s priority was “not confrontation, but security.”
Ukraine and Washington, however, now expect confrontation.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told NBC News that a Russian invasion of its neighbor would be an “extremely violent” operation followed by a brutal occupation.
“It will be a war waged by Russia on the Ukrainian people to repress them, to crush them, to harm them,” the White House official said.
Mounting concern over an invasion quickly overshadowed a French diplomatic initiative, backed by Germany, to push for a summit between Putin and Biden.
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “It’s premature to talk about any specific plans for organizing any kind of summits,” adding that no “concrete plans” had been put in place.
A French presidential official later called on Putin to make a quick decision on the meeting, calling the situation “very dangerous.”
“It is today possible to move towards a summit… it is up to President Putin to make his choice,” the source said.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said there was no sign of Russian forces withdrawing from the border and that Moscow-backed rebels continue to shell Ukrainian positions.
Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow-backed separatists hold an enclave in the eastern districts of Luhansk and Donetsk.
In recent weeks, according to US intelligence, Moscow has massed an invasion force of troops, tanks, missile batteries and warships around Ukraine’s borders in Belarus, Russia, Crimea and the Black Sea.
Biden has said that US intelligence believes that Putin has made a decision to invade Ukraine and that commanders are readying units to attack within days.