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Russia Now Has Over 150,000 Troops Near Ukraine, U.S. Official Says, Amid Reports of More Attacks

Alexander Ermochenko | Reuters
  • The Ukrainian government and Russian state-controlled media exchanged fresh accusations of cease-fire violations near the country's eastern border on Friday.
  • Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, said on Friday that the U.S. estimated Russia had amassed between 169,000 to 190,000 military personnel near Ukraine — up from 100,000 on Jan. 30.
  • U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday that Russia plans to “manufacture a pretext for its attack” on Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government and Russian state-controlled media on Friday exchanged fresh accusations of cease-fire violations near the country's eastern border.

In a statement on Facebook, the Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation said 45 cease-fire violations had been recorded in eastern Ukraine on Friday as of 2 p.m. local time. The JFO alleged that 34 of those violations included the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements, which Russia, Ukraine and pro-Moscow separatists signed in 2014 and 2015 to prevent a war in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Russian state-controlled media agency RIA claimed on Friday that Ukrainian government forces had launched three shelling strikes against Russian-backed separatists.

CNBC was unable to verify either report.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Thursday said its mission in Ukraine had reported almost 600 cease-fire violations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, substantially higher than the 153 violations reported during the previous period.

Meanwhile, Michael Carpenter, U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, said on Friday that the U.S. estimated Russia had amassed between 169,000 to 190,000 military personnel near Ukraine — up from 100,000 on Jan. 30.

Denis Pushilin, head of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic in eastern Ukraine, announced on Friday that the DPR would begin an immediate evacuation of its residents to Russia amid intensifying shelling. Russian state media RIA also reported on the evacuation plans. CNBC has not been able to independently verify these claims.

The east of Ukraine, near the Russian border, has long been the scene of low-level fighting. The OSCE has regularly reports violations of the cease-fire in eastern Ukraine during the eight-year conflict, in which around 13,000 people have died.

The new allegations came after Russian officials reportedly circulated a document at the U.N. Security Council meeting on Thursday which Reuters reported made allegations that war crimes had been committed in Ukraine, and accused the Ukrainian government of "exterminating the civilian population" in the country's east.

A U.S. official dubbed those accusations as "categorically false," according to Reuters.

Russia 'creating a pretext to justify invasion'

The U.S. has warned that Russia could use false assertions, including claims about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as a pretext for an invasion.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that these assertions could include a fabricated terrorist bombing inside Russia, the invented discovery of a mass grave, a staged drone strike against civilians or a fake — or real — attack using chemical weapons, any of which could be blamed on Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly denied that it intends to invade Ukraine, and has claimed this week that its soldiers have begun to withdraw from their temporary posts at the border with Ukraine. However, multiple Western officials have cast doubt on those assertions.

Carpenter, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, added on Friday that over the past several weeks, the U.S. had acquired information that suggests Moscow is planning to stage a fabricated attack by Ukrainian military or security forces against Russian sovereign territory, or against Russian-speaking people in separatist-controlled territory, to justify military action against Ukraine.

Both U.S. President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have also said they believe Russia is engaged in a "false flag" operation.

'Moment of peril'

Blinken warned at the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that "this is a moment of peril for the lives and safety of millions of people," adding that U.S. information clearly indicated that Russian forces were preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days.

Blinken added that if Russia launched an invasion, its tanks and soldiers would be likely to advance on key targets including the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, which has a population of 2.8 million people.  

However, Ukraine's Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told the country's Parliament on Friday: "We don't undermine the threat in any case, but the possibility of escalation is considered to be relatively low regarding a large-scale invasion of Ukraine."

Russia will conduct sweeping military exercises involving its nuclear forces on Saturday, Russian state media reported Friday.

Biden will meet with the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Romania, the U.K., the EU and NATO on Friday to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

Russian and American officials are expected to meet next week.

Russia has demanded that Ukraine never become a member of NATO, the world's most powerful military alliance, and wants the organization to scale back its presence in Eastern Europe. Both the U.S. and NATO have rejected those requests.

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