Western officials and media have spent months alleging that Russia may be preparing to invade its Ukrainian neighbour and building up troops on the border. Moscow has dismissed the claims, and accused NATO of playing up the Russian bogeyman as a pretext to continue the alliance’s eastward crawl.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has dismissed reporting by the New York Times about a “slow evacuation” of the country’s Embassy in Kiev in possible “preparation for a conflict” with Ukraine.
Separately, a Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman also announced Tuesday that Kiev was not aware of any plans by the Russian side to evacuate Embassy staff. Kiev has no intention to remove its diplomats from Russia, and its Embassy in Moscow and consulates in St. Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk are also working as normal, the spokesman said.
The flurry of diplomatic denials follows the release of a report by the New York Times on Monday claiming that Russia is engaged in a “slow evacuation” of its Kiev Embassy, and speculating, citing Ukrainian and US officials, that it could “be part propaganda, part preparation for a conflict or part feint,” or “all three.”
An anonymous senior Ukrainian security official told the newspaper that nearly 50 Russian diplomats and members of their families were sent home from Kiev and the Russian consulate in Lviv, western Ukraine, with two other consulates supposedly asked to make similar preparations.
“We have information that indicates the Russian government was preparing to evacuate their family members from the Russian Embassy in Ukraine in late December and early January,” an unnamed US official said.NYT speculated that the alleged evacuation could be a sign of preparations for a Russian “invasion” of Ukraine, but admitted that Russia’s estimated 77,000 troops near the border with Ukraine is less than half of the 175,000 which the Pentagon recently claimed would soon be deployed.Western officials and media have spent months accusing Russia of engaging in a buildup on the border with Ukraine, citing satellite photos of Russian troop movements nearly 800 km away from the Donbass conflict zone, plus Axis & Allies-style maps supposedly showing a secret Russian plan to conquer its western neighbour.
Russian and even some Ukrainian officials have dismissed these reports. Late last year, Oleksiy Danilov, the chief of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, said that contrary to media claims, “we do not see any danger from what is happening on our borders.”“If we’re talking about the kind of massed concentration insisted on by foreign media, we do not see anything like this,” Danilov said. The NSDC chief, who advises Ukraine’s president, also insisted that the estimated 122,000 Russian servicemen situated within 200 km of the Ukrainian border were insufficient for any invasion, and that three, four or even five times that number would be needed for such an operation.