US Secretary of State Antony Blinken challenged Russia Thursday to make an unequivocal statement that it would not invade Ukraine and to back it up by pulling back troops.
At a UN Security Council meeting on the Ukraine crisis, the top US diplomat laid out in detail how Russia could fabricate an excuse for invading its neighbor.
If it seeks peace, “the Russian government can announce today with no qualification of equivocation or deflection, that Russia will not invade Ukraine, stated plainly to the world,” Blinken said.
“And then demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, your planes, back to their barracks,” Blinken added.
At the meeting, called to discuss the showdown over Ukraine, Blinken said he had invited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to meet in Europe for talks next week, even as US officials say a Russian invasion could take place within days.
Citing US intelligence, Blinken laid out a scenario in which he said Moscow could “manufacture” a pretext to invade, would then bomb Ukraine, launch cyberattacks to shut down its institutions, and send tanks and soldiers in to occupy the country.
“Conventional attacks are not all that Russia plans to inflict upon the people of Ukraine. We have information that indicates Russia will target specific groups of Ukrainians,” Blinken said, without providing details.
The top US diplomat acknowledged that many people question US intelligence claims.
“But let me be clear. I am here today not to start a war but to prevent one,” he said.
“The information I presented here is validated by what we’ve seen unfolding in plain sight before our eyes for months.”
– Invasion claims ‘baseless’ –
At the same meeting, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin blamed the current situation on Kiev’s alleged violations of the 2015 Minsk cease-fire agreement aimed at bringing peace to the breakaway Donbass region.
He also called claims that Russia planned to invade Ukraine “baseless.”
“Ukraine stubbornly refuses to implement the provisions of the Minsk Agreements,” Vershinin told the Council.
He accused Kiev of repeated attacks on the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, causing “thousands of victims.”
“Ukrainian representatives keep coming up with new excuses not to implement their agreements,” he said.
“Attempts to place the blame on Russia are futile and baseless” and aim at “shifting of the blame away from Ukraine,” he said.
Vershinin rejected as “a baseless accusation” claims by the United States and European allies that Moscow is seeking to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine.
He said that Blinken’s talk of an invasion scenario was “dangerous” and claimed that some Russian troops were already pulling back from the border after “exercises.”
“We are ready … for very serious dialogue, not imitation dialogue,” he said.
– Shelling in Donbass –
The statements came amid a surge of shelling incidents in the Donbass region that violated the Minsk ceasefire, that each side blamed on the other.
Washington says that Russia has now placed 150,000 troops and heavy armaments on the Russian and Belarus borders with Ukraine. Earlier Thursday President Joe Biden said an invasion could come in “the next several days.”
Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN undersecretary general for political affairs, urged restraint by all parties in eastern Ukraine.
“If verified, these must not be allowed to escalate further,” she said of the newest shelling incidents.
Addressing the Council, she called the issues underlying the confrontation “complex and longstanding.”
“Although seemingly intractable, given the stakes involved for our collective security and European stability, these issues can and must be solved through diplomacy,” she said.
She said the Minsk Agreements were still the only framework for resolving the eight-year war between the Ukraine government and secessionists in the eastern Donbass region.
“We simply cannot accept even the possibility of a new conflict in Ukraine,” she told the Council.
“There is no alternative to diplomacy,” she said.