Moscow on Monday claimed that it has killed five Ukrainian “saboteurs” who had crossed into Russia, reported AFP. Ukraine, however, has denied the claims.
In a statement on Monday, the Russian military said the operation was carried out near the Mityakinskaya village of Rostov region in South Russia. The statement claimed there were no casualties among Russian troops.
The military added that Ukraine also sent two armoured personnel carriers to evacuate the “saboteurs”.
The report came amid accusations from Ukraine and the Untied States that Russia was plotting “false flag” operations to fake Ukrainian attacks in order to use it as a pretext for an invasion.
Later on Monday, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba dismissed several claims made by Russia, including that of the alleged incursion.
“No, Ukraine did NOT attack Donetsk or Lugansk, send saboteurs or APCs [armoured personnel carriers] over the Russian border, shell Russian territory, shell Russian border crossing, conduct acts of sabotage,” Kuleba tweeted.
He said that Ukraine was also not planning to take any such actions. “Russia, stop your fake-producing factory now,” the minister added.
Earlier on Monday, US President Joe Biden had agreed in principle to a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as long as he does not invade Ukraine. However, Russia said that it was “premature” to hold the meeting.
At a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the US was ready to impose “severe consequences” on Russia if it invaded Ukraine. She reiterated the president’s claims that Russia was continuing to prepare for a full-scale assault very soon.
Responding to the US’ statement, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it was “premature” to discuss specific plans to organise any summit. Peskov said there was an understanding for dialogue to continue at the foreign ministerial level but that there were no “concrete plans” for the two presidents to meet.
Meanwhile, Putin has said there were “no prospects” for a peace plan to end the Ukraine conflict.
Late on Sunday, the office of the French President had announced that Emmanuel Macron had spoken to the Russian and American presidents and proposed a summit. “Presidents Biden and Putin have both accepted the principle of such a summit,” said the Élysée Palace.
Élysée Palace said that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would meet on February 24 to prepare the core agenda. Lavrov was likely to speak to his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian ahead of meeting Blinken, said the AFP report.
Peskov also said that “if necessary”, the two presidents could have a phone call or “connect via other methods,” according to the AFP report. “A meeting is possible if the heads of state consider it appropriate,” AFP quoted Peskov as saying. Peskov also said that Putin is scheduled to hold a meeting of the Kremlin’s Security Council on Monday
Biden had met Macron on Sunday to discuss efforts in response to Russia’s military build-up in Ukraine.
Since early this year, Russia has amassed over 1 lakh troops at the Ukrainian border. Reports also said that 30,000 more troops are engaged in exercises in Belarus, close to its border with Ukraine.
The two countries have been engaged in a conflict since 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed separatist rebellions in the country’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Russia has consistently maintained that it has no plans to invade Ukraine. Last week, there were reports that the country was pulling back some of its troops from the border. But, the United States and allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, have rejected these claims.
The New York Times posted satellite images collected by Maxar Technologies – a firm that deals with on-orbit satellites – of Russian military deployment around Ukraine. Several units or troops have been stationed outside of bases or training grounds.
The newspaper also said that the Russian units were moving closer to the border with Ukraine. Along with the movement of vehicles a new helipad was also constructed two weeks ago.
The US intelligence officials have claimed that 45% to 50% of the more than 1.5 lakh Russian soldiers near the border have moved into combat formation, according to The New York Times.