Kiev – Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists fighting in the east of the country reported a second day of increased bombardment on Friday, as leaders of the rebel-installed Donetsk and Luhansk republics accused the Ukrainian government of planning an imminent attack. . Rebel administrations in the two breakaway regions announced plans to evacuate thousands of civilians to neighboring Russia.
Western leaders say escalation in fighting inThe Donbass region – which has been raging for nearly eight years – could be part of Russian efforts to create a “pseudo-science” pretext for invasion.
“Ukraine is not your enemy, but those who want to defend you against Ukraine are. Do not listen to rumors of an offensive operation,” Ukraine’s Defense Minister said in a speech on Friday. “We have no intention of taking any coercive actions towards ORDLO (Donbas) or Crimea. At all. We will act in the political and diplomatic way. Because there are our citizens and we will not endanger them.”
But the Ukrainian government’s reassurances did not appear to calm nerves in the rebel-held region, with images on social media showing people lining up to withdraw money from banks.
Russian officials seem to know little about the evacuation plans. Asked if Russia is ready to accept thousands of refugees from the Donbass, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday: “I don’t know with whom there were contacts, and I have no information.”
The reports came as the US defense secretary said the US has yet to see a reduction of Russian forces massed around Ukraine’s borders. The US envoy to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was meeting in Germany on Friday, said Russia’s deployment around Ukraine’s borders had already swelled to between 169,000 and 190,000 troops – the largest military build-up in Europe since the World War. Secondly.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a press conference alongside his Polish counterpart on Friday. “We also see them go by, and they continue to prepare, by doing things that you would expect elements – military elements – to do while they were preparing to launch an attack.”
But Russia has continued to make new allegations that some of its soldiers and weapons are returning to their bases after planned military exercises, even as the Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin will personally supervise intense naval exercises on Saturday involving the country’s nuclear forces.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken presented a tough assessment of the situation to the United Nations Security Council, saying that Washington believed Russia was.in Ukraine. He echoed President Joe Biden’s warning that the United States believed Russia was trying to create a pretext for war.
“We have reason to believe that they were engaged in a false operation to have an excuse to enter,” Biden said.
The president is scheduled to host a call on Friday with leaders of NATO, the European Union, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland and Romania.
Meanwhile, Blinken was in Munich with Vice President Kamala Harris for the OSCE security conference, but his spokesman announced overnight that he was now scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov “late next week,” unless invade Russia.
During the conference, Harris was scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about Russia’s buildup along his country’s borders, Kristina Ruffini, CBS News’ foreign affairs correspondent, said at the OSCE meeting.
Ruffini said it was a risky move for Zelensky to leave his country with more than half of Russia’s armed forces moving to combat positions around its borders, but he was careful to ensure that other world leaders did not make decisions that directly affect him in Munich. Without him in the room.
Ruffini noted that Harris was not meeting with any Russian officials during the many days of the OSCE conference, because the Russian delegation chose not to attend — knowing that he could have been in the wrong kind of center of attention.
CBS News’ Pamela Falk reports that United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has made an urgent appeal for calm to leaders assembled at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) conference.
“During most of the Cold War, there were mechanisms in place that enabled parties to calculate risks and use back-channels to prevent crises,” Guterres said. Now, “miscommunication or miscalculation can make a small incident between the forces escalate out of control, causing untold damage.”
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