The United States has said Russia’s immediate occupation of Ukraine is imminent, but Vladimir Putin began launching “strategic” military exercises and missiles this Saturday.
On the Ukrainian side, a military command announced on Saturday that a soldier had been killed in clashes with pro-Moscow separatists.
The announcements come at a time when Vladimir Putin is personally overseeing large-scale military maneuvers and testing of ballistic and cruise missiles capable of carrying nuclear weapons.
On Friday evening, US President Joe Biden said he was “determined” that Vladimir Putin had decided to invade Ukraine, and that the escalation of the conflict would create a “false justification” for launching an attack within a week or so.
But he opened the door to conversation. Until an invasion occurs, he said, “diplomacy is always possible,” and next Thursday announced a meeting between his foreign minister, Anthony Blinken, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
If the Kremlin continues to deny any intention of attacking its neighbors, it demands guarantees for Russia’s security, such as the withdrawal of NATO from Eastern Europe, which the West has refused.
In eastern Ukraine, Ukrainian armed forces and pro-Russian separatists blamed each other on Saturday for serious ceasefire violations.
The Ukrainian military has reported 66 mortar fires of 82 and 110 mm caliber in the frontier cities, especially at 07:00 (04:00 GMT).
OSCE observers on Saturday said they saw a “dramatic increase” in ceasefire violations, bringing the total to 870 on Friday.
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.
Despite the worsening situation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has decided to continue his scheduled visit to the Munich Security Conference on Saturday.
According to the president, the situation in the east of the country is “completely under control”.
For his part, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Saturday assessed that Russia was making a “blatant attempt to rewrite the rules of the international order.” “We can’t allow this,” he said.
Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces have been fighting since 2014 in a conflict that has already claimed more than 14,000 lives in eastern Ukraine.
In addition, the Russian state-run Ria Novosti announced on 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.
On Saturday, Rostov-on-Don declared a state of emergency on the Russian border with refugees from separatist areas in eastern Ukraine. Several thousand people have fled the area, according to local pro-Russian officials.
For its part, Russia has never released the number of its troops concentrated on Ukraine’s borders or its involvement in maneuvers in neighboring Belarus.
However, Washington estimates that Russia has 190,000 men in the suburbs of Ukraine and on 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.”
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Lithuania on Saturday that Russian troops concentrated on the border with Ukraine were “deploying” and “preparing to attack.”
The exercises, conducted by Russia on Saturday, mobilize troops from the southern military district, space forces, northern and Black Sea navies and “strategic forces”. The latter includes intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, submarines, surface ships and naval aircraft carrying conventional missiles.
According to the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Pesko, this is a “routine training process”.
Western nations have unanimously pledged to impose catastrophic sanctions on Moscow in the event of an invasion of Ukraine.
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.
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.
“Total coffee junkie. Tv ninja. Unapologetic problem solver. Beer expert.”