On Friday, the Russian military announced its plans to conduct a set of massive drills with its nuclear forces amid new skirmishes between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government and mounting fears of a Russian invasion.
The Russian Defense Ministry announced the drills on Friday, the Associated Press reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin is also reportedly set to oversee the drills, which will begin on Saturday.
The announcement of the Russian drills comes the day after President Joe Biden said the threat of a Russian invasion to Ukraine is still “very high” and could come within days.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported U.S. officials believe Russia will attack Ukraine across multiple domains, with tanks and fighter jets, as well as cyberattacks.
On Friday, Michael Carpenter, the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Russia has amassed a force estimated at between 169,000 and 190,000 troops near Ukraine. That number is up from an estimated 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine on Jan. 30.
Carpenter also assessed the deployment of Russian troop landing ships in the Black Sea last week was meant “to augment forces” in the region, raising the risk of a Russian amphibious assault on Ukraine.
“Colleagues, this is the most significant military mobilization in Europe since the Second World War,” Carpenter said of the Russian troop buildup.
Russia has denied claims in recent days that it intends to invade Ukraine. This week, Russia’s military said the multi-month troop buildup near Ukraine was just part of its regular military drills and that units that have completed their portions of the drills have begun to return to their home bases. The U.S. has expressed skepticism at Russia’s claims of its troops distancing from Ukraine’s borders.
On Thursday, an exchange of artillery fire broke out after pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine opened fire on Ukrainian government-controlled areas and Ukrainian forces returned fire. Exchanges of artillery fire in eastern Ukraine continued on Friday.
The exchange of fire on Thursday raised concerns already shared by western officials, that Russia might target pro-Russian elements and then blame the attack on Ukraine as a pretext for war.
On Friday, Russia’s state-run TASS news agency reported a car belonging to a pro-Russian militia leader in eastern Ukraine had exploded and pro-Russian Ukrainians had begun to evacuate to Russia, fearing further hostilities. Fox News reported a U.S. state department spokesperson said the reported car bombing and evacuation “are further attempts to obscure through lies and disinformation that Russia is the aggressor in this conflict.”
“This type of false flag operation is exactly what Secretary [of State] Blinken highlighted in his remarks to the U.N. Security Council,” the spokesperson said. “It is also cynical and cruel to use human beings as pawns to distract the world from the fact that Russia is building up its forces in preparation for an attack. Russia is the sole instigator of these tensions and is threatening the people of Ukraine. It has put its troops on Ukraine’s borders and routinely abuses and violates the rights of the people of Donbas and Crimea.”