Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Friday that the government is taking every risk into account after being briefed by the United States over Russia’s possible use of a fake video as a pretext for invasion.
“We haven’t seen the video itself, but I can tell you the United States briefed us shortly before the official announcement by [State Department spokesperson] Ned Price that they possess this piece of intelligence,” Kuleba told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Friday.
“So, now we are looking forward [to] details. But if you ask me if there is anything Russia couldn’t do in order to provoke the war, my answer would be no,” Kuleba said. “Everything is possible and we should take every risk into account.”
This comes shortly after the U.S. accused Russia of plotting to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces as a pretext for the invasion of its neighbor. The White House said on Thursday that it has intelligence Russia is considering using a staged video of a Ukrainian attack involving actors.
The Kremlin has denied it is preparing any false flag operations.
The accusation comes amid a prolonged period of escalated tensions between Russia and Ukraine, with the U.S. and NATO concerned about the unfurling geopolitical crisis.
Over 100,000 Russian troops are stationed at various points along the border with Ukraine. Russian forces have also been posted in Belarus, an ally that lies to the north of Ukraine.
Russia has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine and its forces in Belarus are there for military drills set to take place next week. Nonetheless, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg remarked Thursday that there had been a “significant movement” of Russian troops and military hardware to Belarus in recent days.
He estimated that these included 30,000 combat troops, special ops forces, fighter jets including Su-35s, Iskander dual capable missiles and S-400 missile defense systems, according to Reuters.
There is widespread distrust of Russia, given its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, a country that has a pro-Western government and aspires to join the EU and NATO.
The Kremlin is seen by many analysts as wanting to destabilize Ukraine’s government and as trying to bring the country within its own sphere of influence rather than the West’s.
Ukraine’s Kuleba had previously told CNBC in mid-December that he feared Russia could invade the country “in the blink of an eye.”
When asked whether he still believed this to be the case, he replied: “This feeling accompanied I think all of us throughout January, but actually what we are seeing today is that diplomacy works.”
“The threat of invasion in December, in early January, in middle January then late January, is postponed. And it means Ukraine and the West won against Russia in this first round,” Kuleba said.
“We have won in this round by pushing Russia to keep this military plan on the table but not actually activating it.”
Russia has made a series of security proposals to the U.S. and NATO, demanding guarantees that Ukraine is never allowed to become a member of the Western military alliance and that NATO rolls back its deployments in Eastern Europe. These demands have been rejected by Western officials.
On Wednesday, the U.S. announced it would move 3,000 of its Europe-based forces closer to Ukraine; 2,000 troops in the U.S. are to be sent to Poland and Germany, where they will join other troops, and another 1,000 who are already in Europe will be moved to Romania.
Russia blasted the move as “destructive,” according to reports quoting Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, while the Kremlin said Wednesday that the deployment of U.S. troops in Europe is proof that Russia has reason to be concerned.
Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, said the U.S. is “continuing to pump up tension in Europe,” adding that the deployments are “the best proof that we, as Russia, have an obvious reason to be worried,” Russian state news agency TASS reported.
Timothy Ash, senior emerging markets strategist at BlueBay Asset Management, believes the Kremlin doesn’t really care about NATO, an alliance that has expanded in terms of members and territory but which has seen the defense spending of many of its members decline (much to the annoyance of the United States).
Instead, Ash said, Russia’s motivation stems from a desire to prevent popular uprisings against the government, like those seen in Ukraine in the last two decades — beginning with the so-called “Orange Revolution” in 2004 that saw mass protests in the country after a contested presidential election, and which culminated in pro-Western politicians coming to power that year.
More recently, there was the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution, a more violent uprising that came with a wave of pro-European protests and civil unrest which culminated in the ousting of the then pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
“First, it’s about Ukraine … Putin ultimately wants Ukraine, as he sees it as core to Russia’s own identity and great power status,” Ash said. “He thinks that there is this historical/Slavic brotherhood between Ukrainians and Russians, and since the collapse of the USSR, then with the Orange Revolution and Euromaydan, Ukraine has now been set on a course West, away from Russia and over time risking to break this link with Russia. He feels he has to act now to stop this migration.”
“Second, it’s about ideas, not arms or weapons” Ash added.
“Putin just hates coloured revolutions as they provide the biggest threat to his own rule in Russia. And in this respect Ukraine is unfinished business — he lost the Orange and Euromaydan revolutions [and] he wants to get revenge on those, but prove they were mistaken, and don’t deliver better governance and improved living standards for populations. He believes his model is better, and he is determined for Euromaydan Ukraine to fail, ultimately. Hence he cannot help himself from constantly intervening to undermine Ukraine’s development,” Ash said.