A militant of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic patrols the damaged building of a local school located near the line of separation from the Ukrainian armed forces in the settlement of Molodizhne (Molodezhnoye) in the Luhansk region, Ukraine February 17, 2022.
Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters
The Ukrainian government and Russian state-controlled media on Friday exchanged fresh accusations of cease-fire violations near the country’s eastern border.
In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation said 20 cease-fire violations had been recorded in eastern Ukraine on Friday as of 9 a.m. local time.
The JFO alleged that 15 of those violations included the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements, which Russia, Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists signed in 2014 and 2015 to prevent a war in eastern Ukraine. No fatalities were reported.
Ukraine also claimed that separatist forces were “placing their artillery systems near residential buildings.” The JFO added, “United forces control the situation and respond appropriately to potential threats from the enemy.”
Meanwhile, Russian state-controlled media agency RIA claimed on Friday that Ukrainian government forces had launched three shelling strikes against Russian-backed separatists.
CNBC was unable to verify either report. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday said its mission in Ukraine had reported almost 600 cease-fire violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, substantially higher than the 153 violations reported during the previous period.
The east of Ukraine, near the Russian border, has long been the scene of low-level fighting. The OSCE has regularly reported violations of the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine during the eight-year conflict, in which around 13,000 people have died.
Russian officials reportedly circulated a document at the U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday which Reuters reported made allegations that war crimes had been committed in Ukraine, and accused the Ukrainian government of “exterminating the civilian population” in the country’s east.
A U.S. official dubbed those accusations as “categorically false,” according to Reuters.
It came after the Ukrainian government and Russian state media made contradictory accusations about shelling strikes on Thursday, with a school and a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine being hit by attacks.
The U.S. has warned that Russia could use false assertions, including claims about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as a pretext for an invasion.
Moscow has repeatedly denied that it intends to invade Ukraine, and has claimed this week that its soldiers have begun to withdraw from their temporary posts at the border with Ukraine. However, Western officials have cast doubt on those assertions, saying that intelligence in fact suggests more troops have joined those already at the border in recent days.
Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, said on Friday that the U.S. estimated Russia had amassed between 169,000 to 190,000 military personnel near Ukraine — up from 100,000 on Jan. 30.
“We are aware that Russia is intent on creating a pretext to justify an invasion into Ukraine,” Carpenter told the OSCE’s Forum for Security Co‑operation in Vienna.
He added that over the past several weeks, the U.S. has acquired information that suggests Moscow is planning to stage a fabricated attack by Ukrainian military or security forces against Russian sovereign territory, or against Russian-speaking people in separatist-controlled territory, to justify military action against Ukraine.
Both U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have also said they believe Russia is engaged in a “false flag” operation.
Russia will conduct sweeping military exercises involving its nuclear forces on Saturday, Russian state media reported Friday.
Speaking at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that “this is a moment of peril for the lives and safety of millions of people.”
He added that U.S. information clearly indicated that Russian forces were preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days.
“This could be a violent event that Russia will blame on Ukraine, or an outrageous accusation that Russia will level against the Ukrainian government,” he said, noting that a staged military strike against civilians could be one of the methods the Kremlin uses to achieve this end.
Blinken also said that if Russia launched an invasion, its tanks and soldiers would be likely to advance on key targets including the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which has a population of 2.8 million people.
Biden will meet with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the U.K., the EU and NATO on Friday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.
Russian and American officials are expected to meet next week.
Russia has demanded that Ukraine never become a member of NATO, the world’s most powerful military alliance, and wants the organization to scale back its presence in Eastern Europe. Both the U.S. and NATO have rejected those requests.
Armed police and an ambulance are seen outside the Field’s shopping center in Oresta…