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Boris Johnson has said the shelling of a kindergarten in Ukraine was “designed to discredit the Ukrainians”.
A number of shelling incidents have been reported in eastern Ukraine, with an attack this morning damaging a kindergarten in the border town of Vrubivka.
Speaking after the attack, Johnson said the incident was a “spurious provocation” by Russia intended to form a “pretext” for launching an armed invasion on Ukraine, where Russia continues to build up forces at the border.
“I wish I could give everybody better news about this, but I have to tell you that the picture is continuing to be very grim,” Johnson said in a statement on Thursday.
“Today, as I’m sure you’ve already picked up, a kindergarten was shelled in what we are taking to be – well, we know – was a false flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians, designed to create a pretext, a spurious provocation for Russian action.”
“What we are doing is making that we do everything to strengthen the package of sanctions that will follow immediately should there be a Russian invasion.”
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who arrived in Kyiv today, said the attack was “straight out of the Kremlin playbook”.
“Reports of alleged abnormal military activity by Ukraine in Donbas are a blatant attempt by the Russian government to fabricate pretexts for invasion,” she tweeted. “This is straight out of the Kremlin playbook.”
Speaking during meetings with Ukranian officials, Truss announced the UK was increasing its funding to operations in the country to £100m, saying Russia must “think again”.
“Despite their claims, Russia’s military build up shows no sign of slowing,” she said. “There is currently no evidence that their forces are withdrawing, and we need Russia to step back from the brink. They must take the path of diplomacy.”
She said there continued to be a “significant chance” of further offensive action by Russia.
“If not, why are there 100,000 troops on the border with Ukraine. But Russia can still take the path of diplomacy,” she said. “They can de-escalate, they can move their troops away from the border, and I believe that is in the interest of European security, but it is also in Russia’s interests.”
Jen Stoltenberg, Nato’s secretary general, also believed the incident was a pretext for an armed attack by Russia on Ukraine.
“There’s still no certainty as to Russia’s intentions … we’ve seen attempts to stage a pretext, false flag operations, to provide an excuse to invade,” he said.
The warnings came as Russia continued to reinforce its position, including moving an additional 7,000 troops to its positions near the border.
Western officials have dismissed claims by Russia that it is withdrawing forces following routine military operations, with Stoltenberg saying on Wednesday there was “no sign” of a legitimate de-escalation by Russia.
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