RUSSIA has warned war is ‘highly likely’ with Ukraine following orders to troops to remain ‘combat ready’ after speculation of a Ukrainian invasion.
The Kremlin has said that Kiev’s desire to retake Crimea is “direct threat”, as the US vows to respond following growing reports of a Russian invasion.
Tensions between Ukraine and Russia have been escalating over recent weeks, with Moscow having massed troops within striking distance of its neighbour’s borders.
Vladimir Putin has also ordered US officials to leave Russia immediately amid fears he plans to order an invasion of Ukraine, before the end of January.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Moscow is worried about the possibility of a Ukrainian military move.
He said: “Speaking in parliament, Zelensky said that the return of Crimea should be the main goal and philosophy of Ukraine.
“We see this as a direct threat to Russia.
“Such wording of course means that the Kiev regime intends to use all available means – including force – in order to encroach on a Russian region.
“This is how we are leaning towards perceiving it.”
US intelligence reportedly supports the assessment that Russia is preparing for an invasion of Ukraine.
Russia is said to have deployed close to 100,000 troops, with tanks, artillery and ballistic missiles near the border, while Moscow insists it has no intention to invade.
They have also accused Ukraine and its Western allies of falsifying the claims to cover up their own aggressive intentions.
Russian authorities also reported that its FSB counter-intelligence service detained three Ukrainian spies gathering information about ‘strategic facilities’ and were planning a ‘terrorist attack’.
Peskov said: “The likelihood of hostilities in Ukraine is still high. This remains a matter of particular concern and worry for us.
“We are seeing an increase in the intensity of provocative actions on the contact line.”
Meanwhile, Putin ally Army General Shoigu announced yesterday: “I have signed an order granting military personnel rest days on 29 and 30 December.
“In return, we will work on 18 and 25 December.
“I request that the necessary level of combat readiness, law and order and military discipline be maintained in the troops.”
“NO CONCERN TO ANYONE”
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin today said that an invasion of Ukraine would be met with a response, while US secretary of state Anthony Blinken warned of ‘high-impact sanctions’.
Austin said: “Whatever we do will be done as a part of an international community.
“The best-case though is that we won’t see an incursion by the Soviet Union into the Ukraine.”
Austin also declared any US response to Russia’s actions towards Ukraine would be carried out in conjunction with the international community.
Blinken has warned Moscow to pull back its troops from the border, saying a Russian invasion would provoke sanctions hitting Moscow harder than ever.
Blinken said he hoped that a diplomatic solution could be reached with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov: “The best way to avert the crisis is through diplomacy, and that’s what I look forward to discussing with Sergei.”
Lavrov told reporters Moscow was ready for dialogue with Kiev: “We, as President Putin has stated, do not want any conflicts.”
Speaking at the Kiev Security Forum, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland warned Russia against making any moves “to internally destabilize Ukraine or use these forces to enter the country.”
She insisted that any forceful move on Russia’s part “will be met with high-impact economic measures, the likes of which we have not used before.”
The Kremlin has consistently rejected claims made by the US and Western media as “hysteria.”
Peskov also insisted that Russia poses no threat to anyone, and that “the movement of our armed forces on our own territory should be of no concern to anyone.”