Russia has compiled lists of Ukrainians to target after an invasion, a U.S. official has said, as President Vladimir Putin is set to address his country’ssecurity council.
In a letter to the U.N.’s Human Rights chief, seen by NBC News, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bathsheba Nell Crocker said the U.S. had “credible information” that Russia has compiled lists of Ukrainians “to be killed or sent to camps” following an invasion. The contents of the letter were first reported Sunday evening by The Washington Post.
“We also have credible information that Russian forces will likely use lethal measures to disperse peaceful protests or otherwise counter peaceful exercises of perceived resistance from civilian populations,” she said.
The Kremlin refuted Crocker’s accusations on Monday, dubbing reports that Russia had drawn up such lists an “absolute lie,” Reuters reported.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov told Ukrainian broadcaster ICTV on Monday that an invasion was unlikely to occur “tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” as no Russian “strike groups” had congregated at the border.
He added, however, that these groups could be set up within weeks.
It came after the White House warned Moscow was planning to launch a full-scale attack on Ukraine “very soon,” and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned there was evidence Russia is planning “the biggest war in Europe since 1945.”
Last week, the U.S. estimated there were now between 169,000 and 190,000 Russian troops in and near Ukraine, up from 100,000 at the end of January. The updated figures came despite Russian claims that it had begun to withdraw troops from the border, which were also contradicted by NATO and the EU.
Russia has repeatedly denied it plans to invade neighboring Ukraine. It has demanded guarantees that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO –a request rejected by the military alliance and the U.S. — and has said it wants the organization to scale back its presence in eastern Europe.
Putin is set to address Russia’s security council imminently, Reuters reported on Monday, in what was described as “not a regular session” by Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov also told reporters on Monday that while tensions were growing over Ukraine, Russian diplomatic officials were active, according to Reuters.
Fighting escalates in eastern Ukraine
Fighting in between Ukrainian authorities and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, which has been ongoing for eight years, has escalated over the past week. Russian state media and Ukrainian authorities pointed the finger at one another repeatedly for carrying out shelling attacks and other ceasefire violations.
On Monday, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said Russian occupation forces had carried out “yet another provocation with the aim of falsely accusing Ukrainian service members.”
“[The] aggressor opened heavy armament fire from the settlement of Lobacheve targeting Luhansk,” the ministry said in a statement.
Over the past day, Ukrainian authorities said they had recorded 80 ceasefire violations, 72 of which involved the use of weapons prohibited by the Minsk agreements, treaties signed in 2014 and 2015 by Ukraine, Russia and separatist leaders.
“With Ukrainian defenders refraining from any aggressive acts that could possibly trigger a violent response, the occupation forces continue to destroy civilian infrastructure on the temporarily occupied territories and sporadically shell civilian settlements,” Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense added. “It is obvious that the adversary continues to use the Russian propaganda machine to wage information warfare, to falsely accuse the Armed Forces of Ukraine and to further escalate the situation.”
On Saturday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe recorded more than 1,500 ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine, including 1,413 explosions.
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, but the numbers have risen drastically in recent days.
Last week, the leader of one of the separatist-held areas in eastern Ukraine announced that residents would be evacuated to Russia with the assistance of the Russian government. It came after the country’s lawmakers asked Putin last week to officially recognize two self-declared republics in Ukraine’s east as independent.
Kremlin spokesperson Peskov said on Monday that “provocative and aggressive actions of the armed forces of Ukraine” had led to Russia taking action to “ensure security and save the lives of the civilian population,” according to Russian state-controlled media.
Russia state media also continued its claims on Monday that Ukrainian government forces had carried out shelling and other attacks on separatist-held territory.
Western officials have warned that Russia could make false claims about the conflict in Ukraine’s east to justify military aggression and an invasion, in what has been dubbed a “false flag attack” by the U.S. and the U.K.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the U.N. Security Council last week that this could include a fabricated terrorist bombing, the invented discovery of a mass grave, a staged drone strike against civilians or a fake chemical weapon attack.
Biden agrees ‘in principle’ to meet Putin
On Sunday, the White House announced that President Joe Biden has agreed “in principle” to a meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, provided there is no invasion of Ukraine. However, the U.S. still warned that Moscow is preparing for “a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon.”
The Kremlin said on Monday that there were currently no concrete plans for a meeting between Putin and Biden, according to Reuters.
Blinken is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Europe later this week, again provided Moscow does not initiate any military action.
Biden on Sunday convened a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the escalating tensions around Ukraine.
Speaking to reporters at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris warned that there was now a “real possibility of war in Europe” for the first time in more than 70 years.
“As the President has said, we believe that Putin has made his decision. Period,” she said.
The sanctions package designed by the U.S. and its allies that would be imposed on Russia in the case of an invasion are “some of the greatest sanctions, if not the strongest, that we’ve ever issued,” Harris added.