- Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Russia is trying to “destabilize Ukraine from within.”
- Russia has amassed thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border, prompting fears of an invasion.
- Blinken said it’s unclear if Putin will invade, but Russia could do so in “short order” if it wants to.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday warned that there’s “evidence” Russia is moving to “destabilize Ukraine from within.”
The statement came days after Ukrainian President Volodymyr said authorities had uncovered a coup plot involving Russians who were reportedly recorded discussing how to get a Ukrainian tycoon to back the coup.
“I received information that a coup d’etat will take place in our country on Dec. 1-2,” Zelensky said, adding that Russia was projecting “very dangerous” signals with its military operations along the Russia-Ukraine border.
“There is a threat today that there will be war tomorrow,” Zelensky said. “We are entirely prepared for an escalation.”
Blinken on Wednesday said the US is “deeply concerned by evidence that Russia has made plans for significant, aggressive moves against Ukraine.”
“The plans include efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, as well as large-scale military operations,” he added at the press conference in Latvia, where NATO foreign ministers met this week to discuss security concerns, with Russia topping the list.
“We’ve seen this playbook before — in 2014 when Russia last invaded Ukraine. Then, as now, they significantly increased combat forces near the border,” Blinken said. “Then, as now, they intensified disinformation to paint Ukraine as the aggressor to justified preplanned military action.”
Blinken said in recent weeks there’s also been a “massive spike … in social media activity pushing anti-Ukrainian propaganda, approaching levels last seen in the lead-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.”
The top US diplomat’s comments came as Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s border, sparking fears of an invasion. Ukraine has said there are roughly 90,000 Russian troops on its border. It’s not the first time this year that Russia has gathered a sizeable force on the border with its next-door neighbor, and Blinken said it’s unclear what Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to do next.
“We don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade,” Blinken said, adding, “We do know that he’s putting in place the capacity to do so on short order, should he so decide.”
Blinken said the West needs to plan for all contingencies, and the US and NATO have warned Russia that there will be severe consequences if Russia takes any military actions against Ukraine.
Putin, meanwhile, has blamed NATO for rising tensions and warned the alliance against crossing his “red lines” in Ukraine.
The Kremlin views NATO’s increasing influence in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, as a major security threat. And Russia has complained about NATO and US military activities in the Black Sea and broader region. Putin also said on Tuesday that if NATO moves troops or advanced weapons into Ukraine, Russia will respond.
“If some kind of strike systems appear on the territory of Ukraine, the flight time to Moscow will be seven to 10 minutes, and five minutes in the case of a hypersonic weapon being deployed,” Putin said.
His comments are the latest provocation following years of aggressive posturing over Ukraine. The conflict escalated to new heights in 2014, when Russia annexed the territory of Crimea in southern Ukraine.
Following the ouster that year of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych, amid widespread protests, Moscow waged an all-out hybrid war in Ukraine from 2014 to 2016 that consisted of increased military action, proxy warfare, and disinformation campaigns aimed at destabilizing Ukraine’s fledgling democratic government.
Since 2014, Ukrainian troops have also been fighting against Kremlin-backed rebels in eastern Donbass. Russia has denied any involvement in the conflict, which has claimed over 13,000 lives. Over the course of the war, the US has provided more than $US2.5 ($AU3) billion in security assistance to Ukraine.
Russia has stepped up its disinformation campaigns in Ukraine in recent years as well, portraying the country as a “fascist junta” overrun by anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism.
“What we know about the Russians is that it’s part of their M.O. and they sow chaos wherever they can,” one cybersecurity expert previously told Insider.
Putin has also sought to weaken Ukraine’s standing on the international stage by, among other things, blaming it for interfering in the 2016 and 2020 US elections — an effort that the US concluded was ordered and carried out by the Kremlin and Russian intelligence agencies in order to propel Donald Trump to the Oval Office.
Ukraine is not a NATO member, though it does maintain a strong partnership with the alliance and its members have provided security resources to the country. NATO does not have any troops permanently based in Ukraine, and has not moved any advanced missiles into its territory.