Western officials on Saturday doubled down on warnings that Russia appeared to be stepping up plans to invade Ukraine, pointing to a massive disinformation campaign and ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine as some of the signs of Moscow’s intentions, to reports by Belga News Agency.
“All the signs indicate that Russia is preparing an all-out attack against Ukraine,” the head of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Jens Stoltenberg, said in an interview aired on Saturday by the German public broadcaster, ARD. "No troops are being withdrawn, as Russia says, but new troops are being added," he said, adding that there were also indications that Russia was preparing to create a pretext for an attack.
Stoltenberg said NATO was committed to a political solution. "We want to get Russia to change course and sit down with us," he said.
NATO has relocated its staff in Ukraine from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv and to Brussels, to ensure their safety. “The safety of our staff is primordial,” said a NATO official who confirmed the relocation on Saturday. “NATO’s offices in Ukraine remain operational,” he added.
Also on Saturday, EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell expressed concern that recent allegations against Ukraine on Russian state media might be aimed at justifying an invasion.
“The EU is extremely concerned that staged events … could be used as a pretext for possible military escalation,” Mr. Borrell said in a statement. “The EU is also witnessing an intensification of information manipulation efforts to support such objectives,” he noted.
On Thursday, U.S. media reported President Joe Biden as saying that a Russian invasion could be a matter of days.
The various warnings came as Russian state media published a spate of unverifiable articles on violence in eastern Ukraine, much of which is held by pro-Russian rebels. Russian media accuse Kyiv of preparing an assault against rebel enclaves in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.
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The EU sees the claims as anything but credible, according to Mr. Borrel. “The EU sees no grounds for allegations coming from the non-governmental controlled areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of a possible Ukrainian attack,” he said in his statement.
On the other hand, Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) observers reported in a press release on Saturday that, between Thursday evening and Friday evening, there were over 1,500 violations of a ceasefire that is supposed to be in place in the two regions. Observers counted 591 violations in Donetsk and 975 in Lugansk.
Mr. Borrel defended the “key role” played by the observers deployed in Ukraine to monitor events on the ground. He also said the EU commended “Ukraine’s posture of restraint in the face of continued provocations and efforts at destabilisation.”
Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky told his French vis-à-vis, Emmanuel Macron on Saturday that he would not retaliate against “Russian provocation” in the east of his country, according to the Office of the French Presidency. Zelensky also said he remained ready for “dialogue” with Moscow, Mr. Macron’s Office added, referring to the “latest efforts to avert a major conflict in Ukraine.”
The French president is scheduled to speak with Mr. Putin on Sunday.