Russia warns of provocations in Ukraine
Moscow does not rule out provocations against the self-proclaimed republics in Donbass, “especially on the part of independent actors” in Ukraine, Russia’s Foreign Ministry told journalists on Monday amid Western rumors about a Russian invasion in the upcoming days.
When asked whether Moscow was considering evacuating its citizens from the neighboring country, Yuri Gorlach, the director of the Foreign Ministry’s crisis center, responded with a rhetorical question: “Do you understand how many Russian citizens there are in Ukraine?”
The official added that speculations abound over Ukraine, with the West ratcheting up tensions.
On Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, announced that Russia had decided to “optimize” its diplomatic presence in Ukraine “in light of possible provocations by the Kiev regime or third countries.” She noted, however, that all the consulates and the embassy would continue operating. Zakharova also dismissed as rumors the reports in the Western media that Moscow was evacuating its diplomats from Ukraine.
The “optimization” followed decisions by multiple Western governments to dramatically scale down their diplomatic staff in Ukraine. Commenting on the evacuations, Zakharova surmised that the US and UK, which have “considerable sway” over Kiev, are “apparently aware of some military action being prepared in Ukraine that could dramatically complicate the situation in terms of security.”
Western governments have been claiming for months that Russia is going to invade its neighbor – something that Russia has vehemently denied all along. While multiple media outlets have even alleged concrete dates on which Russia will presumably strike, officials in Washington acknowledged they could not give a timeframe, claiming, though, that the alleged invasion could begin “any day.”
Washington insists the ball is in Moscow’s court in terms of de-escalation, as it is the Kremlin sending out aggressive signals.
Last week, The Washington Post ran an article which claimed that the US intelligence services had gotten wind of a “false flag” operation Russia was allegedly preparing to justify a military incursion. The outlet cited unnamed US and European officials.
Moscow says that all these allegations are being used as a pretext to deploy more NATO hardware and troops along Russian borders. Addressing its own troop movements cited by the West as proof of an imminent invasion, the Kremlin insists that they are confined to Russia’s territory, and, hence, are not something Moscow has to account for.
Following talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in late January, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the whole hysteria spurred by the West could be intended to serve as a smokescreen to cover Ukraine’s line on sabotaging the Minsk agreements.