Shelling in eastern Ukraine adds to tensions as U.S. says Russian claim of troop pullback ‘false’

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Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Twitter that the town was shelled “with heavy weapons from the occupied territory of the Donbas,” calling on foreign partners to condemn the incident. 

Meanwhile, Moscow-backed separatists in the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” accused Ukrainian soldiers of firing on their territory four times in the past 24 hours, Reuters reported. In a statement, the separatists said Ukrainian forces had used mortars, grenade launchers and a machine gun in four separate incidents, according to Reuters.  

The details of the incidents could not be independently confirmed by NBC News.

Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian troops in Luhansk and neighboring Donetsk since 2014, when Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and backed the breakaway forces. The violence has killed some 14,000 people and remains unresolved. There have been a series of shaky ceasefires in place, but occasional firing and casualties continue. 

The incidents come amid a dispute over Russian claims of a drawdown around Ukraine that have lowered hopes of a potential de-escalation.

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Moscow announced earlier in the week that it was pulling back some of its troops from near Ukraine’s borders, but Washington and its allies said there was no proof of the Russian claims. 

“We now know it was false,” a senior Biden administration official told reporters Wednesday night, adding that as many as 7,000 troops have joined the Russian contingent in recent days.

The official said troops were arriving as recently as Wednesday and Moscow could launch a false pretext to invade Ukraine at any moment.

Russia has consistently denied it has any plans to attack its neighbor.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels that Russia had “increased the number of troops, and more troops are on the way.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has also dismissed the Russian claims.

His defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said Wednesday that Kyiv has not recorded any actual withdrawal of Russia troops.

“Small units are indeed withdrawn for the sake of appearance, but to say that this is a total or even significant withdrawal of troops — no, this is not happening,” Reznikov said. 

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