At UN, US warns Russia planning to invade Ukraine in 'coming days'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken addresses a UN Security Council meeting on the tensions between Ukraine and Russia. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

UNITED NATIONS (REUTERS) - US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken laid out at the United Nations Security Council on Thursday (Feb 17) how Washington believes Russian could seek to invade Ukraine, warning that Moscow was preparing to take such military action in the "coming days."

Blinken accused Russia of planning to manufacture a pretext for an attack on Ukraine that could include "a fake, even a real, attack using chemical weapons," and said: "Russia may describe this event as ethnic cleansing or a genocide."

"The Russian government can announce today, with no qualification, equivocation or deflection, that Russia will not invade Ukraine. State it clearly. State it plainly to the world, and then demonstrate it by sending your troops, your tanks, the planes back to their barracks and hangars and sending your diplomats to the negotiating table," Blinken said.

Blinken made an appearance at a meeting of the 15-member council on the Minsk agreements, which aim to end an eight-year-long conflict between the Ukrainian army and Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country.

The meeting came amid high tensions after the United States accused Russia of deploying some 150,000 troops near Ukraine's borders in recent weeks.

Russia has said it has no plans to invade Ukraine and accuses the West of hysteria.

Blinken said US information indicated that Russian forces "are preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days."

He said he has asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to meet in Europe next week.

Speaking before Blinken, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin appealed to council members not to turn the meeting "into a circus" by presenting a "baseless accusation saying that Russia allegedly was going to attack Ukraine."

"I think we've had enough speculation on that," Vershinin said. "We have a long ago clarified everything and explained everything."

A senior US administration official had earlier warned on Thursday that Russia could use the Security Council meeting as part of a bid to "establish a pretext for a potential invasion" after Russia circulated a document to council members, alleging that war crimes had been committed in southeastern Ukraine.

The US official rejected the Russian claims as "categorically false."

Referring to ethnic Russians living in eastern Ukraine, Vershinin said they "are still presented as foreigners in their own country" and targeted by the Ukrainian military. He told council members they would be "horrified" by the document Russia had shared with them.

Earlier on Thursday, 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."

Yasar Halit Cevik, chief monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, told the Security Council that while some 500 explosions had been recorded overnight, "the tension may seem to be easing."

The UN Security Council has met dozens of times to discuss the Ukraine crisis since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014. It cannot take any action because Russia is a veto-power along with France, Britain, China and the United States.

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