London (Reuters) – British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss accused Russia on Thursday of seeking to fabricate a pretext to invade Ukraine after Moscow expressed concerns about escalating military activity in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine.
Earlier, Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces traded accusations of firing shells across the ceasefire line in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, in what Kyiv said appeared to be a “provocation”.
Western countries fear Moscow, which has massed an estimated 150,000 troops near Russia’s borders with Ukraine, may try to engineer an escalation of the fighting in eastern Ukraine as an excuse to intervene directly.
“Reports of alleged abnormal military activity by Ukraine in Donbass are a blatant attempt by the Russian government to fabricate pretexts for invasion. This is straight out of the Kremlin playbook,” Truss said on Twitter, adding that Britain would “continue to call out Russia’s disinformation campaign”.
Truss was in Kyiv on Thursday in another round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at averting a possible Russian invasion. Moscow denies any plans to invade and accuses Western countries of “hysteria” in their reactions to its military exercises.
Months Of Standoff?
In an article published in Thursday’s edition of The Daily Telegraph newspaper, Truss said she believed Russian President Vladimir Putin could drag out the Ukraine crisis for months in an attempt to challenge Western unity.
“There is currently no evidence the Russians are withdrawing from border regions near Ukraine,” she wrote, echoing concerns expressed by the United States, NATO and others.”The Russian military build-up shows no signs of slowing.”
“We must have no illusions that Russia could drag this out much longer in a brazen ploy to spend weeks more – if not months – subverting Ukraine and challenging Western unity.”
Britain’s minister for the armed forces, James Heappey, also warned of a possible Russian invasion, telling BBC Radio that bridges had been laid across the Pripyat River near the Belarus-Ukraine border.
Russia has been conducting some military exercises in Belarus, its close ally, which is located just north of Ukraine.
Heappey also said the West should plan for a scenario where Russia did not invade but kept its troops in place long-term.
“That is a kind of noose around Ukraine’s neck indefinitely with all of the economic, political and security impacts that that would bring,” he told Sky News.