By Darya Tarasova, Sharon Braithwaite, Kara Fox, Katya Krebs and Tim Lister, CNN
Russia blasted Western countries and media for spreading a “large-scale disinformation campaign” over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, saying Friday that they were doing so “to divert attention from their own aggressive actions.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry statement comes just hours ahead of an expected call between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday, and as the US issued a stark warning that a Russian assault on Ukraine was imminent.
“At the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, the global information space faced a media campaign unprecedented in its scale and sophistication, the purpose of which is to convince the world community that the Russian Federation is preparing an invasion of the territory of Ukraine,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Friday.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned Friday that a Russian assault on Ukraine could begin soon, including with bombs and missiles. Sullivan advised all Americans to depart the country as quickly as possible for their own safety, echoing the call of a growing number of embassies that are doing the same.
While Sullivan said it is not clear whether Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, he said there was a “very distinct possibility” that Russia would act militarily.
The Kremlin has long denied it is planning to attack and has argued that NATO support for Ukraine — including increased weapons supplies and military training — constitutes a growing threat on Russia’s western flank.
Earlier Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US continues “to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border.”
The US estimates Russia has more than 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border, with thousands added just this week, according to an administration official.
On Thursday, new satellite images released by the US-based technology company Maxar appeared to show the continuing Russian military buildup in Crimea, western Russia and Belarus.
The images were released on the same day Russia and Belarus began 10 days of joint military drills, underscoring Ukrainian intelligence officials’ fear that Russia could use Belarus as a “full-fledged theater of operations.” Russia ramped up its military presence in Belarus from several thousand troops in January to an estimated 30,000 sometime this month.
Meanwhile, in the Ukrainian capital Friday, Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko outlined steps to safeguard “critical and social infrastructure facilities” in “the event of a possible emergency.”
In a statement issued on Telegram, Klitschko said, “Our efforts are aimed at preventing or overcoming both possible provocations and withstanding a military attack.”
He said those efforts included generating additional electricity production and creating fuel reserves for “a period of up to 10 days,” adding there are more than 500 storage facilities and nearly 4,500 “dual-use structures” available as civil protection services across the city.
Klitschko also said evacuation plans had been set up at the district level across the capital.
Blinken reaffirmed “the United States’ robust support for Ukraine in the face of an increasingly acute threat of possible further Russian aggression” in a call with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Saturday morning local time in Australia.
Blinken “underscored that any and all aggression against Ukraine by Russia will be met with swift, severe and united consequences,” spokesperson Ned Price said.
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