Russia is attempting to create a pretext for a further invasion of Ukraine, using claims of “genocide” and “mass graves” in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region as evidence of Ukrainian crimes, the U.S. State Department has said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, speaking at a press briefing on Feb. 16, said none of these claims were true.
“This is a false narrative that Russia is developing to use as a pretext for military action against Ukraine,” he said.
Price recalled that ahead of the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, Moscow also falsely claimed that local Russian-speaking residents were being persecuted there.
Earlier, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that fake reports of mass graves in the Donbas could become a pretext for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
On Feb. 16, Russia opened a criminal case against Ukraine for allegedly mistreating civilians in the Donbas.
The Russian Federation claims that in August-October 2021 it found five mass graves in the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine.
Journalist Olga Khudetskaya pointed out that these mass graves had been found in territory that has been occupied by Russian proxy forces since 2014, when Russia first launched its armed offensive against the Donbas.
No credible evidence of persecution of Ukrainian Russian speakers has ever been presented, with an overwhelming majority of such claims, all originating from Russia, having been debunked as either false, or misinterpreted and highly exaggerated.
In contrast, there is evidence that pro-Ukrainian individuals in Russian-occupied territory in Crimea and the Donbas have often been persecuted by the Russian authorities. In Crimea, Russia continues to conduct ethnic and religious persecution against the indigenous Crimean Tatar population.
Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and occupied the Crimean Peninsula. It controls proxy military forces in the Donbas, and currently has more than 150,000 troops on the border with Ukraine.
On Feb. 11, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Russia had sent additional forces to the border with Ukraine and could launch a new wave of invasion at any time, including during the Winter Olympics in Beijing. Politico reported, citing a source, that U.S. President Joe Biden told NATO allies and EU leaders about the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 16.
The Kremlin responded by accusing Western media of a “large-scale disinformation campaign.”
Later, the U.S. Department of Defense announced they could not confirm media reports on the exact date of a possible invasion.
Earlier, President Volodymyr Zelensky said that there is too much information on the media scene about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He urged people not to panic and assured that "everything was under control." The Ukrainian leader also declared Feb. 16 as Unity Day.