‘Shelling has started’ EU chief issues bleak warning as Russia attacks Ukraine

Biden says threat of Russian invasion of Ukraine is ‘very high’

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The EU Commission Vice-President Josep Borrell said fears were growing of “increased fighting and heavy shelling” in Ukraine amid fears of all out war. Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels reported increased shelling in eastern Ukraine for a second straight day on Friday, an escalation that Washington and other Western allies fear could form part of a Russian pretext to invade.

The marked escalation of shelling in eastern Ukraine, where government troops have faced Moscow-backed rebels since 2014, has stoked global alarm since Thursday.

Both sides have said shelling stepped up dramatically, although so far no deaths have been reported.

Mr Borrell said: ”What we have evidence of and we are very concerned about is increased fighting and heavy shelling on some parts of the border, exactly the part I visited in early January, referring to a visit he made to eastern Ukraine.”

He said ”in the last few hours” they have noticed “a lot of disinformation from Russia to create an atmosphere of attacks against Russians in this part of Ukraine”.

The EU boss added: ”And if we add to that that the Duma – the Russian lower house – has voted to ask President Vladimir Putin to recognise the independence of the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“The whole package increases our concerns. We are certainly much more concerned.”

But he warned the EU would not issue sanctions against Russia until the “level of intensity of the aggression requires it”.

A diplomatic source with years of direct experience of the conflict described the shelling over the past two days as the most intense along the frontline in eastern Ukraine since major combat there ended with a 2015 ceasefire.

The diplomatic source said close to 600 explosions were recorded on Friday morning, 100 more than on Thursday, some involving 152 mm and 122 mm artillery and large mortars. At least four rounds had been fired from tanks.

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The source added: ”They are shooting – everyone and everything.

“There’s been nothing like this since 2014-15.”
Russia denies Western accusations it is planning an all-out invasion of Ukraine, a country of over 40 million people, in what would potentially be Europe’s worst war in generations.

The Kremlin called the situation in eastern Ukraine potentially very dangerous.

In the most detailed US warning yet of the likelihood of war, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN Security Council Washington believed Russia was planning an all-out assault.

He warned it could begin with a manufactured pretext, possibly involving a faked attack and false accusations about the separatist conflict.

But the Kremlin has dismissed accusations it is planning an invasion as Western hysteria.

On Friday Moscow said a tank unit and two mechanised infantry units were heading back to bases in southern and central Russia following exercises.

But Russia has also forcefully pressed a set of security demands, including a promise Ukraine never be admitted into NATO, which the West calls a non-starter.

On Thursday Russia delivered a strongly-worded letter to the US accusing it of ignoring Moscow’s security demands and threatening unspecified “military-technical measures”.

Russia announced President Vladimir Putin would personally supervise exercises of its strategic nuclear missile forces on Saturday, though it said these drills were no cause for alarm.

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