Russia is “one step away from war” with Ukraine, state television warned in the recent saber-rattling attack between Moscow and Kiev that has upset nerves across Europe.
Dmitry Kiselyov, a Russian newscaster who has historically been described as a “Putin propagandist”, issued the warning during a primetime broadcast in Russia on Sunday.
He labeled Ukraine a “Nazi state” and said Russia may be forced to “de-nationalize” its purchasing power – a process he said would cause its “economic and military collapse”.
Russia is believed to have rallied more than 80,000 soldiers along Ukraine’s eastern border, including tanks, artillery pieces, armored transports and support vehicles – raising fears of invasion.
Ukrainian presidential spokeswoman Iuliia Mendel said today that 40,000 soldiers are stationed in Crimea, and another 40,000 near the Donbass region, where Russia-backed separatists have been fighting government forces for years.
Meanwhile, Michael McFaul, who was America’s husband in Moscow between 2012 and 2014 when Putin annexed Crimea, warned that Putin could invade Ukraine and, in the “worst case” scenario, bring war to Europe.
Russia has continued to bring artillery pieces (left), armored vehicles (right) and troops to the border with Ukraine, warning that building up could spark war in Europe
There are now more than 80,000 Russian troops along the border, said the Ukrainian president’s office, 40,000 of them in Crimea and 40,000 along the rest of the border
Michael McFaul, former US Ambassador to Moscow, said the setup – which is being done with full view of cameras (above) – was “definitely” designed to test Joe Biden
Videos from Rostov-on-Don, about 100 miles from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, show tanks (left) and support vehicles being brought closer to the border
He said the current stance in Eastern Europe could easily lead to widespread conflict if Russia decides to attack under the pretext of “liberating” the Russian-speaking population in the east of the country it regards as citizens.
“If that happened, the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian army would reply, I have no doubt, and then you would be waging a war in Europe between two very formidable armies,” he said.
Meanwhile, Russia attacked Ukrainian President Zelensky over the air waves, with state media portraying him as an attacker.
A news report on Russia’s Channel One compared Zelensky – a former actor – to Napoleon after unearthing pictures of him playing the role in an old television drama.
The Ukrainian leader dreamed of “Napoleonic ambitions” while hoping NATO would help him against Russia, the report said.
But it was clear that Zelensky did not consider himself “reasonable”. Putting Napoleon on the screen “is not the same as doing it,” the report added.
In another report, ex-TV comedian Zelensky was referred to as a “commander-in-chief” comic, the “war president” who “incited” conflict.
Viewers were told that Ukraine, with the support of NATO, instead of Russia, was building military firepower near Donetsk and Luhansk, controlled by pro-Moscow rebels after a civil war in 2014 that resulted in more than 14,000 deaths .
“Never before has there been so much NATO military hardware in Ukraine,” the report said.
Suspected arrivals of U.S. cargo planes and Pentagon-leased cargo ships in the strategic Ukrainian port of Odessa were also highlighted.
These claims could not be immediately confirmed.
Videos have also shown tanks, mobile artillery, howitzers, armored personnel carriers and support vehicles being brought to the front lines – many of which are being gathered in a camp near the city of Voronezh, about 115 miles from the border.
Mendel added that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had asked for talks with Putin about troop build-up, but had not yet received a response.
Zelenskiy will travel to Paris this week to discuss growing tensions with European allies.
When asked by BBC Radio 4 how concerned world leaders should be about the situation in Ukraine, Mr McFaul replied simply, “Very much.”
Ukraine has started to pump out its own images of military preparations, including troops practicing with anti-tank launcher
Ukrainian troops practice anti-tank missiles and grenade launchers while government warns of risk of Russian invasion
A Russian “peacekeeping” vehicle is on the move in Transnistria in Moldova along the western flank of Ukraine
While US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has threatened “consequences and costs” for Russia’s entry into Ukraine, McFaul said his threat did not go far enough.
He urged the White House to explicitly set out what its retaliation would be if Russia attacked, hoping to change the calculation Putin makes before giving the order.
“Sanctions almost never change Putin’s behavior post-facto, but they could change his calculations before he decides to move,” he said.
He added that the G7 should also issue a statement condemning Russia’s actions rather than forcing America to take its position alone.
When asked why Putin is making a problem out of a conflict that has been simmering in eastern Ukraine for the past five years, McFaul pointed to the “hard” things Biden has said about the Russian president since he took office.
Back in March, Biden called Putin “a murderer” while threatening to take revenge on Russian attempts to interfere in the 2020 elections.
The remark caused anger in Moscow, as Putin’s spokesman called it “unprecedented”, saying it was clear that Biden “does not want to improve relations with us and we will continue to assume”.
Observers have also indicated that pressure on Putin from within Russia is mounting to exacerbate simmering tensions.
In polls, the president finds himself facing falling popularity, repeated media leaks about his closely guarded private life, and serious opposition in the form of Alexei Navalny – the now-imprisoned critic who sparked mass protests back in January.
Andrea Kendall-Taylor of the Center for a New American Security told Foreign Policy magazine that “it feels like Putin is stirring up the beleaguered Russia narrative.”
Amid tensions, Russian media warned Monday that the country was “one step away from war” as anchors labeled Ukraine a “Nazi” state and played footage of weapons being brought to the border.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) has called for talks with Putin (left) to resolve tensions, but says Moscow has not reacted so far
Joe Biden increased tensions with Moscow by calling Putin a “murderer”. Experts said the troop movements were designed to “test” the US president
Moscow also revealed a new video of its latest Air Defense Forces Day Arms Day.
Further recordings showed the first Russian military mass on the western flank of Ukraine with movements in Transnistria, a Moscow-controlled no man’s land that borders Moldova.
Some wore “peacekeeping” signs, as is normal for Moscow forces in the breakaway territory. It wasn’t immediately clear where the armed forces were going.
Troops and equipment were also on the move in the annexed Crimea, along with the Russian regions of Pskov, Ryazan, Rostov-on-Don and elsewhere.
Images of armed forces conducting exercises with the Korsar (Corsar) light portable anti-tank missile system also surfaced from Ukraine.
US military reconnaissance aircraft P-8A Poseidon and Lockheed EP-3E Orion were reportedly sighted over the Black Sea near Crimea over the weekend.
It comes after Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned last week of the threat of a “second Srebrenica” against Russian-speaking people in Ukraine – referring to a massacre of Muslims by Bosnian-Serb forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian War.
The deputy head of the presidential administration, Dmitry Kozak, warned that if Russia finds reason to intervene in the conflict, it would be the “beginning of the end” for Ukraine.
Military action would be “not a shot in the leg, but in the face,” he added.
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatist movements in Donbass has already increased as tensions mount, Kiev said.
One Ukrainian soldier was killed and another wounded in artillery fire in the fighting on Sunday.
According to Ukraine, 27 soldiers were killed in the region this year, more than half of all those who died in 2020.