American officials have warned Russia that if it escalates the Ukrainian security crisis, the US may refer the matter to the UN Security Council.
"If Russia takes action, we're not going to hesitate to pursue an appropriate response in the Council and defend the principles of the UN Charter," one US official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"All options for Security Council response are on the table and we're discussing all of those with other Security Council members and with partners here in New York," the official added. "We are looking at the appropriate time to raise the issue in the Council."
The warning comes amid an apparently state-sponsored Western media campaign accusing Moscow of plotting to invade neighboring Ukraine.
The latest developments highlight steadily soaring tensions between Russia and member nations of the US-led NATO military alliance.
"If Russia further escalates tension to really go to the heart of the principles and commitments that all nations states have made in the UN Charter ... there will be obviously an opportunity for discussion at the UN Security Council," said another US official.
This comes after Russia dismissed as “unsubstantiated” the claims made by other unidentified US officials earlier on Friday that Moscow was plotting a “false flag” incident in a bid to invade Ukraine.
“So far, all these statements have been unsubstantiated and not backed up by anything,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Mainstream Western news outlets quoted US officials as echoing claims by Kiev that Russia had dispatched “operatives” into disputed eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in order to stage a “provocation” that could lead to an “invasion.”
An unnamed US official had claimed there was some new intelligence findings which showed Russia was seeking to fabricate a pretext for invasion.
“The Russian military plans to begin these activities several weeks before a military invasion, which could begin between mid-January and mid-February,” the US official said. “We saw this playbook in 2014 with Crimea.”
Such claims also came amid reports that top US spy agency – the CIA -- is overseeing an undercover training program in the United States for Ukrainian forces, in an effort to “enhance” their “ability to push back against the Russians.”
According to local press reports published Thursday, CIA has been conducting the secret training program “for elite Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel.”
Citing five former intelligence and national security officials familiar with the program, the report said the program started at an undisclosed facility in the southern US in 2015.
“The United States is training an insurgency,” a former CIA official said, adding the program has taught the Ukrainians how “to kill Russians.”
“If the Russians invade, those [graduates of the CIA programs] are going to be your militia, your insurgent leaders,” added the official. “We’ve been training these guys now for eight years. They’re really good fighters. That’s where the agency’s program could have a serious impact.”
The latest developments came after a week of diplomatic talks between officials from the US, Europe and Russia. The negotiations ended on Thursday with no major breakthroughs.
The Russian government demanded last month that the Western military alliance must now allow Ukraine to join NATO and should further roll back its military deployments near Russian borders.
Moscow also proposed that the US should avoid establishing any military bases in former Soviet states that are not part of NATO, and not develop a bilateral military alliance with them.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Monday repeated Russia's demands including a ban on further NATO expansion and an end to the alliance's activity in the central and eastern European countries that joined it after 1997.
"We underscore that for us it’s absolutely mandatory to make sure that Ukraine never, never, ever becomes a member of NATO," he said.