Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine have ordered a full military mobilization, further heightening tensions in the region after Washington said Moscow would invade within days, and Ukraine’s president traveled to Europe to mobilize his support.
As the Kremlin says Vladimir Putin will oversee major military exercises along Ukraine’s borders on Saturday, the head of the pro-Russian separatist government in the Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, issued a statement announcing a war footing and urging reservists to report to army enlistment offices.
Shortly after the announcement on Saturday morning, a second separatist leader, Leonid Pasechnik of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR), signed a decree calling for full military mobilization, according to Reuters.
These statements have aggravated the feverish situation in eastern Ukraine, where rebels have ordered mass evacuations in the face of alleged shelling and mortar attacks by the Ukrainian army.
US President Joe Biden on Friday night renewed his warnings that a Russian invasion of his neighbor could happen at any time, and said claims by pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine that they were attacked by Ukrainian government forces were “made”. ”.
Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Saturday they had seen a significant increase in the number of attacks along the frontline, particularly in the separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, fueling Western fears that Moscow could use it as a pretext for an invasion.
The Pentagon also said 40% of the estimated 150,000 Russian forces on the border were in “attack position”. US officials believe the total number of troops is 190,000 when pro-Moscow Ukrainian rebels are included in the figure.
Adding to Western concerns about Russia’s military buildup, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that Putin would personally oversee drills on Saturday that would involve multiple practice missile launches.
The Kremlin denies plans to attack Ukraine and added to the war of words on Saturday morning by dismissing US claims that it was responsible for cyberattacks on Ukrainian banking and government sites earlier in the week.
“We categorically reject these baseless statements by the administration and note that Russia has nothing to do with the mentioned events and in principle has never conducted and does not conduct any ‘malicious’ operations in cyberspace,” he said. the Russian Embassy in the United States on Twitter. .
US Deputy National Security Adviser Anne Neuberger said on Friday that Russian military intelligence was behind the recent series of distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that briefly took banking and banking sites offline. Ukrainian governments.
Speaking in Washington on Friday evening, Biden said the invasion would take place within a week or days and that his Russian counterpart Putin had “made the decision” to invade. But Biden left the door open for a diplomatic resolution.
“Russia has a choice between war and all the suffering it will bring or diplomacy that will make a future for everyone,” Biden said at the White House.
“[Putin’s] focused on trying to convince the world that he has the ability to change the dynamics in Europe in a way that he cannot,” added Bided.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was due to travel to Germany on Saturday to meet with Western leaders at the Munich Security Conference, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Britain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs, Liz Truss. .
But Biden questioned whether it was a “wise choice” for the Ukrainian leader to leave his country as war fears peaked.
There were growing fears that a spark, which Washington said could be a deliberate false flag incident orchestrated by Moscow, could spark the biggest military confrontation in Europe since World War II.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg, who will also be at the Munich security conference, warned that the size of the assembled Russian force far exceeded that needed for military exercises and that Russia had the capability to invade. without warning.
France and Germany have urged Russia to use its leverage over rebels in disputed eastern Ukraine to “encourage restraint and contribute to de-escalation”.
An Agence France-Presse reporter near the frontline between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists in the Lugansk region heard explosions and saw damaged civilian buildings on the side of the Kiev line.
Officials told local media that 25,000 people left Lugansk and more than 6,000 left Donetsk for Russia. Long lines of cars were reported at Donetsk checkpoints.
Seeking to reverse the aggressor narrative, Moscow-backed leaders have accused Kyiv of planning an offensive to retake eastern territories. Evacuations of civilians there were reportedly in response to concerns about a government attack.
Russian news agencies quoted officials in Lugansk as saying there had been two explosions in an hour on a gas pipeline but the fires were under control.
But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who will meet his Russian counterpart for talks on Thursday, according to Biden, accused the Kremlin of mounting a propaganda campaign to create an excuse for war.
Biden again ruled out sending US troops to Ukraine, but his administration reiterated that it would hit Moscow with costly sanctions that would turn Russia into “a pariah for the international community.”