Chris Lange, FISM News
Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine are accusing one another of ceasefire violations.
Ukraine’s military on Thursday said Russian-backed rebel forces in the eastern portion of its country fired shells at a village in the Luhansk region, striking a kindergarten. Three adults were injured but no children were harmed, according to Ukrainian officials, as reported by Reuters. A video released by the Joint Forces Operation press service showed a hole in a wall of a kindergarten music room littered with bricks and rubble and a shell crater on the ground outside the building. Earlier, Russian-backed separatists accused Ukrainian forces of shelling numerous locations under rebel control.
Earlier that day, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that “diplomacy is working,” according to a BBC report. Kubela acknowledged that “We can never say for sure what happens tomorrow,” but said Ukraine is committed to peace, adding, “We’re very much ready for any situation.”
Russia, meanwhile, sent a formal response to the White House’s negotiation proposals Thursday in which the U.S. outlined a potential route to diplomacy and also warned that the West is prepared to impose economic sanctions if Russia invades. Moscow said it is open to discussions concerning missile site inspections but reiterated that the U.S. continues to fail to address its main security concerns. The response also contained a warning that “military-technical means” would be undertaken if security demands are not met, though it did not specify what those measures may entail.
During a United Nations Security Council meeting Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said U.S. intelligence reports suggesting Russia is planning a “false flag” operation to justify an invasion of Ukraine are “unfolding right now.”
“We don’t know precisely how things will play out. But here’s what the world could expect to see unfold. In fact, it’s unfolding right now, today, as Russia takes steps down the path to war and reissued the threat of military action,” Blinken said. He went on to repeat intelligence reports indicating Moscow “plans to manufacture a pretext for its attack” on Ukraine that could include fake bombings, the “discovery of a mass grave, a stage drone strike against civilians, or a fake, even a real attack using chemical weapons,” he said before adding that Russia could immediately de-escalate the crisis by simply and plainly stating, “with no qualification, equivocation or deflection,” that it will “not invade Ukraine.”
“State it clearly, state it plainly to the world and then demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, your planes back to their barracks and hangars and sending your diplomats to the negotiating table,” Blinken said, adding, “In the coming days the world will remember that commitment, or the refusal to make it.”
Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Russia Sergei Vershinin shot back that Blinken was “play[ing] to the cameras” and trying to “make this meeting of ours into a circus.” He went on to call the false flag accusation “baseless,” saying, “I think we’ve had enough speculation on that…We have long ago clarified everything and explained everything, and the announced date of the so-called invasion is behind us,” referring to U.S. intelligence reports suggesting Russia planned to invade Ukraine Feb. 16. “So therefore, my advice to you is [to] not present yourself in an awkward situation,” he added.
President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy yesterday, according to a read-out from the White House. The two leaders discussed ongoing efforts to de-escalate tensions through “diplomatic and deterrence efforts in response to Russia’s continued military build-up at Ukraine’s borders.” Both leaders said they remain committed to the sovereignty of Ukraine and reaffirmed their readiness to impose economic sanctions on Moscow if it further invades.