Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists accused each other of shelling along the border as President Joe Biden warned of a potential imminent invasion on Thursday, The New York Times reports.
Artillery shells struck a town in eastern Ukraine, hitting a kindergarten and wounding three adult civilians, according to the Ukrainian military.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba blamed Russia for a “severe violation” a cease-fire agreement in the region.
Russia said that it is concerned about “an ongoing exchange of strikes” along the front and claimed “the first strike came from the Ukrainian side.”
“We have warned many times that excessive concentration of Ukrainian forces near the contact line, together with possible provocations, can pose terrible danger,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the development “troubling.”
“We’ve said for some time that the Russians might do something like this in order to justify a military conflict. So we’ll be watching this very closely,” he said.
Biden warns of war:
Russia claimed this week that it is pulling back some troops from the Ukrainian border but US and Western governments say there is no evidence of that. Some intelligence shows that more Russian troops are coming to the frontlines.
Biden on Thursday said the threat of a Russian invasion remained “very high” and could come in the next several days.
“Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine,” he said, later adding that he believes there is still a “path” to a diplomatic resolution.
Austin echoed Biden’s statement.
“I was a soldier myself not that long ago,” Austin said. “I know firsthand that you don’t do these sorts of things for no reason. And you certainly don’t do them if you’re getting ready to pack up and go home.”
Russia boots top diplomat:
Russia’s government expelled the US deputy ambassador to the Kremlin, the State Department said Thursday, calling it an “escalatory step.”
The State Department said Deputy Ambassador Bart Gorman was expelled last week and that his expulsion was “unprovoked.”
“Now more than ever, it is critical that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel in place to facilitate communication between our governments,” a State Department official told the Times.