While the United States and other NATO countries are closely monitoring the situation regarding Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, reports of shelling incident on Thursday are being described by the Pentagon as “troubling.”
Now, Ukrainians and Russian-backed rebels are now blaming each other for violating a cease-fire. Austin told attendees at a NATO news conference, “We’ve seen the reports of the shelling . . they’re certainly troubling. We’re still gathering the details, but we’ve said for some time that the Russians might do something like this in order to justify a military conflict.” Austin is referring to reports over the last two weeks that one of Vladimir Putin’s top playbook ideas would be to create a “false flag” situation that would later be used as an excuse to go ahead with plans for a Ukrainian invasion.
For months, Putin has threatened to invade the Ukraine. Russian troops surround a good portion of the Ukrainian border. Putin demanded that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO, among other demands from the West and its allies. The Pentagon warned several weeks ago that there could be a video released by the Russian government staged to look as if the Ukrainian people had fired initially at Russian troops, creating a “false flag” diversion in order to invade. Late last week, rumors flew that the Russian president was expected to invade this past Wednesday. Americans were personally called by staff at the State Department and told to leave the Ukraine within 48 hours. With tensions at a boiling point, Americans are watching and anticipating Russian movement at any time.
During his remarks, General Lloyd Austin addressed claims that Russia is pulling back troops that have surrounded most of Ukraine’s border for some time. Austin said, in fact, that indications show the Russian president is taking measures that would lead to an upcoming “offensive action” into the Ukraine. Even President Joe Biden told reporters this week that an invasion of the Ukraine could come “within days.”
Austin said regarding the claims the Russian troops are pulling back: “The Russians say they are withdrawing some of those forces (having completed training exercises), but we don’t see that. Quite the contrary, we see them add to the more than 150,000 troops they already have arrayed along that border . . . even in the last couple of days.”
Previously, it was thought that the number of Russian troops was closer to 100,000. This would indicate that the number of troops is being consistently bolstered.
As evidence of suspected troop additions, Austin pointed to intelligence showing additional combat aircrafts flying in as well as activity in the Black Sea. He also noted that there has been an increase in the Russian blood supply in recent days.
Austin added that his own personal military experience tells him that these actions are not taken by a country that is intent on pulling troops back, but rather a military preparing for battle.
When asked by a recent cyberattack on the Ukraine, Austin would not confirm that it was the handiwork of the Russian government, but he did acknowledge that the move is “a play taken right out of (Putin’s) playbook.”
Austin did share a glimmer of hope with NATO attendees, saying that the “looming conflict” “can still be averted.” He also echoed a statement made by President Biden that the United States “is prepared to defend every inch of NATO territory” should the conflict escalate. However, American diplomats and Pentagon officials hope that there is still an opportunity to prevent an invasion.
On Thursday, shelling in the Luhansk Region took place. Buildings were damaged, and shelling is alleged to have taken place between Ukrainians and pro-Russia rebels are said to have fired the shots.
Austin told NATO that if Putin is serious about diplomatic talks, “he will find in the United States . . .no better or more serious interlocutor.” Austin added that if Putin forgoes diplomatic talks that Putin will “bear the responsibility for the suffering . . .that ensues.”