US makes new Russian troop claim
Russia has increased its troop deployment near Ukraine by several thousand in recent days, an anonymous official in Washington has claimed, despite Moscow’s announcement on Tuesday that it was pulling some soldiers back to their bases following the completion of military drills in Belarus.
On Wednesday, a US official, who refused to be quoted by name, told reporters that Moscow had sent 7,000 more troops to bolster its forces on the Ukrainian border, and directly accused Russia of lying about a withdrawal, claiming there was fresh evidence that it was planning an attack.
“Every indication we have now is they mean only to publicly offer to talk, and make claims about de-escalation, while privately mobilizing for war,” the official reportedly said.
The source also warned that Russia could use a false pretext for an attack, such as NATO activity in eastern Europe or a Ukrainian offensive in the Donbass, where separatists have been fighting with government forces since 2014. “We should expect more false reports from Russian state media over the coming days,” the official claimed. "We don't know what form the false pretext will take. But we hope the world is ready.”
Western leaders have been voicing fears of a possible Russian attack on Ukraine for months, and in recent days have claimed that an invasion could take place at any moment, with some media outlets naming February 16 as the date. Moscow has consistently denied that it has any aggressive intentions, and on Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defense announced that it was pulling some soldiers and equipment back to their bases after the completion of scheduled joint military exercises in neighboring Belarus.
Western officials, however, have said they see no evidence of a genuine drawdown. “Contrary to their claims, Russia continues to build up military capabilities near Ukraine,” Jim Hockenhull, the British chief of defense intelligence, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Russia has the military mass in place to conduct an invasion of Ukraine.”