Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division walk to board a plane from Pope Army Airfield in Fort Bragg, North Carolina on February 14, 2021 as they are deployed to Europe. (Photo by Allison Joyce / AFP)

US: Russia moving towards ‘imminent invasion’

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Russia is moving toward an “imminent invasion” of Ukraine, the US envoy to the United Nations warned Thursday ahead of what is expected to be a heated meeting of the Security Council on the ongoing crisis.

As tensions surged again over the possibility of a Russian assault, Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Secretary of State Antony Blinken would address the Council meeting on Ukraine “to signal our intense commitment to diplomacy.”

“Our goal is to convey the gravity of the situation. The evidence on the ground is that Russia is moving toward an imminent invasion.

“This is a crucial moment,” she tweeted.

Blinken, on his way to a security conference in Munich later this week, will appear at the UN “to offer and emphasize the path toward de-escalation, and to make it clear to the world that we are doing everything we can to prevent war,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

With the meeting due to begin at 10:00 am (1500 GMT) in New York, events were moving quickly: shortly after Thomas-Greenfield spoke, Moscow expelled the deputy chief of the US mission there, while Britain declared that a reported shelling of a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine was a “false flag operation” designed to create a pretext for Russian military action.

And US President Joe Biden warned that the threat of Russian invasion was “very high.”

Russia has repeatedly denied it is planning an invasion of Ukraine and repeated Thursday that it is not planning any attack.

‘Most perilous moment’

But the US says Moscow has continued building up its forces and combat readiness along the border with its Eastern European neighbour, despite the Kremlin saying it was pulling back troops.

A senior State Department official said the US had watched with growing alarm as Russia claimed to be de-escalating Wednesday, but in fact, appeared to be escalating.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the situation bore a resemblance to the phase that preceded Moscow’s incursion into Georgia in 2008.

The official also said the US was concerned by the recent shelling in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine and cited what Washington says are preparations to fabricate a pretext for invasion, an accusation echoed by NATO.

Britain took the accusation one step further Thursday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson declaring that the shelling of a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine was “a false flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians, designed to create a pretext, a spurious provocation for Russian action.”

Russian media published articles and photographs this week of purported secret mass graves in Donbass, controlled by Moscow-aligned secessionists who have been battling Ukrainian government forces since 2014.

Earlier this week, Russian leader Vladimir Putin claimed Kyiv was committing “genocide” there.

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin warned again in Brussels that Russia could be seeking an excuse to invade.

“We’ve said for some time that the Russians might do something like this in order to justify a military conflict. So we’ll be watching this very closely,” Austin told journalists after a meeting with NATO defence ministers.

This could be the “most perilous moment” for peace and security since the end of the Cold War, the senior State Department official said. (AFP)