Russian's Defense Minister has accused US private military companies (PMCs) of preparing a provocation with the use of chemical weapons in eastern Ukraine amid escalation of tensions between Washington and Moscow over the restive region.
Sergey Shoigu said at a meeting of top Russian generals on Tuesday that Moscow believes there are more than 120 employees of American PMCs operating in Ukraine’s eastern region of Donbass, where they are working with Ukrainian special forces.
Shoigu told the meeting, attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, that containers with “unidentified chemical components” have been delivered to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman in Donbass in order to stage provocations.
The Russian Defense Minister provided no further details or evidence of the false-flag chemical attacks that had purportedly been planned.
Tensions have been mounting in eastern Ukraine since last month, when several Western media outlets reported that Russia had been amassing troops near the border and claimed that Moscow was planning a large-scale military invasion of the country.
Speaking at the same meeting on Tuesday, Putin warned of military-technical measures and a tough response if NATO expanded further toward Russia's borders as tensions escalate between the two sides over the situation in Ukraine.
The Russian leader blamed the West for the current tensions in Europe and said Moscow had had to respond to recent hostile activities by the US and NATO in the vicinity of its western borders.
Stressing that Russia no longer viewed the West as a dependable partner, Putin said Moscow had been seeking written assurances about the presence of US troops and hardware near its borders, but added that even those assurances could not be "trusted."
The Russian Foreign Ministry last week released two draft documents on the provision of legal security guarantees from Washington and NATO, which included the call for a promise that the US-led military alliance would give up any military activity in Eastern Europe and Ukraine.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Monday that Moscow had so far received no response from the United States and said that Russia was ready for a military response if NATO kept ignoring Moscow's security concerns.
Moscow says it is entitled to move its military freely within its borders and that it is taking precautionary steps because of increased NATO activity near its territory.
President Putin has repeatedly warned the West against crossing the Kremlin's red lines by staging military exercises in and sending lethal weaponry to Ukraine.