The Ukrainian Government and Russian-backed separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk are currently trading accusations of each shelling the other, further escalating tensions within the Ukrainian border. Ukrainian and United States officials say that these Russian-backed separatists are only pursuing these allegations of shelling as a pretext to invade Ukraine.

According to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, separatists fired heavy artillery in the Stanytsia-Luhanska village where said shells hit a Fairy Tale Kindergarten. The artillery attack wounded multiple civilians, damaged public infrastructure, and knocked out portions of the village’s electricity. It was reported that 24 children were present in the kindergarten when an artillery round hit their sports room. A mortar landed on the playground seconds later.

Ukrainian Commander of the Ukrainian Military in Donbas Lieutenant-General Alexander Pavliuk reported that there were 49 incidents of separatist fire along the frontline, with over 39 artillery attacks since last week.

Furthermore, a car was also destroyed and subsequently blown up outside a government building in Donetsk, which Russian-backed separatists accused the Ukrainian government of an attack. It was later revealed that the car had belonged to Donetsk rebel military head Denis Sinenkov.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attributed the attack as a provocation by Russia and pro-Russian forces inviting Ukraine to retaliate. This heightens fears of the Kremlin using small escalations as a pretext to invade Ukraine proper.

To further escalate tensions, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic Head of State Denis Pushilin claimed that Kyiv had been planning an assault on the Donbas region, a portion of Ukraine that has since been in the hands of separatists and the subject of constant fighting since 2014. Similarly, Luhansk People’s Republic leader Leonid Pasechnik also claimed this alleged military assault. Both claims were released without any substantive evidence to back them. In response to the allegations, Ukraine had stated that its forces have shown restraint despite the shelling and increased violence by the Russian-backed separatist proxies as they believe it is a provocation by Russia.

According to the Ukrainian Commander-in-chief of the military, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Russia was behind disinformation campaigns saying these allegations were “a campaign to spread mass disinformation, increase shelling of Ukrainian positions and civilian infrastructure with weapons banned by the Minsk agreements, and escalate the security situation.”

The Ukrainian government had also accused the Russian-backed separatists of locating artillery systems near residential buildings, which risk harm to civilians if attacked. Ukraine, being on the receiving end of the attacks, had Zaluzhnyi saying that its actions were only executed in of self-defense.

Reports of false-flag attacks had been surfacing in recent weeks, with US intelligence uncovering a fake video plot to be used by the Russians as a pretext for an invasion. The video in question was said to be fabricated to show Russian-speaking populations being killed by Western-made weapons at the hands of Ukrainians, along with several villages and infrastructure being destroyed. The video has not been released to the public in support of these claims by the Biden Administration.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had stated that Russian attempts to fabricate events to invade countries were not uncommon in the past, tweeting that “Reports of alleged abnormal military activity by Ukraine in Donbas are a blatant attempt by the Russian government to fabricate pretexts for invasion. This is straight out of the Kremlin playbook.”

Former US Ambassador to NATO Kurt Volker also shared his concerns about these false-flag attack ploys, stating that these concerns should be taken seriously as they have done these tactics before. “This is something Russia has done consistently during its eight-year occupation of parts of Donbas. Whenever it wants to raise tension or put pressure on Ukraine, it claims that Ukraine has fired on its troops. It’s something that Russia does with regularity. It is apparent that is happening now,” he stated in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Ukrainian Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Oleksiy Danilov also echoed these statements of various government officials about Russia’s tendencies to use false-flag attacks. He said that Ukraine was well aware of these military tactics. However, Kyiv would reportedly respond peacefully and diplomatically to defuse the crisis.

According to him, Ukraine does not have any plans to recapture the Donbas region forcibly, and a Russian invasion was unlikely as of the moment. Despite this, US President Joe Biden is convinced that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, stating that a war of choice would be immensely catastrophic. However, he expressed that diplomacy is always the first option for every crisis and that talks are always open with Russia until the Russian actually invade which would close off diplomacy as a means of ending the crisis.

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