Leaders of two breakaway territories in eastern Ukraine ordered full military mobilization on Saturday.
“I urge fellow countrymen who are in the reserve to come to the military commissariats. Today I have signed a decree on general mobilization,” self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic leader, Denis Pushilin, said in a video message.
Another separatist leader, Leonid Pasechnik, signed a similar decree for the Luhansk People’s Republic shortly afterwards.
Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels reported increased shelling in the east over the last few days.
Washington and other Western allies say it could form part of a Russian pretext to invade Ukraine.
“There is simply no evidence to these assertions and it defies basic logic to believe the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with well over 150,000 [Russian] troops arrayed on its borders, to escalate a years long conflict,”US President Joe Biden said on Friday.
Russia has repeatedly denied that it has no plans to attack its neighbor.
On Friday, the breakaway regions started evacuating residents to Russia. They cite fears of an imminent attack by Ukrainian forces – an accusation Kyiv flatly denied.
Russia rejected claims it was responsible for cyber-attack on Ukraine
On Saturday, Russia also denied allegations that it was responsible for cyber-attacks on dozens of official Ukrainian websites.
The US, UK, and Ukraine blamed Moscow of being behind the spate of distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that briefly knocked out banking and government websites.
“We categorically reject these baseless statements of the administration and note that Russia has nothing to do with the mentioned events and in principle has never conducted and does not conduct any ‘malicious’ operations in cyberspace,” the Russian embassy in the US wrote on Twitter.
Harris to meet Zelenskyy in Munich
US Vice President Kamala Harris was expected to warn Moscow on Saturday that an invasion of Ukraine could likely lead to an even bigger NATO footprint on Russia’s doorsteps.
She would use her speech at the Munich Security Conference in Germany to push for “strength through unity,” a senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Associated Press.
Harris was expected to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the sidelines of the conference.
Zelenskyy confirmed he would travel to Munich despite the escalating tensions.
Russia has amassed up to 190,000 troops on the borders with Ukraine, the US warned on Friday.
The Kremlin said that Russian leader Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron would speak on the phone on Sunday. Next week, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to meet with his US counterpart Anthony Blinken.
Putin to attend launching drills
President Putin was set to supervise an exercise involving ballistic and cruise missile launches.
Russia’s defense ministry said the air force, southern military district units, as well as the northern and Black Sea fleets would be involved.
Putin was expected to monitor the practices from a situation control center at the defense ministry.
lo/dj (AFP, AP, Interfax, Reuters)