US accuses Moscow of creating Ukraine invasion pretext with 'genocide' claims

Washington (AFP) – The US State Department said Wednesday that Russia was attempting to create a "pretext" for invading Ukraine with unsupported claims of "genocide" and mass graves in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region.

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Russian media published articles and photographs this week of purported secret mass graves in Donbass, controlled by Moscow-aligned secessionists who have been battling Ukrainian government forces since 2014.

On Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that Kyiv was committing "genocide" in Donbass.

State Department Spokesman Ned Price alleged that Moscow was making the claims as an excuse for invading Ukraine.

"Over the past several weeks, we've also seen Russian officials and Russian media plant numerous stories in the press, any one of which could be elevated to serve as a pretext for an invasion," Price told reporters.

Those claims, which have spread on social media, include genocide, mass graves and the potential of the Ukrainian government to use chemical weapons against the people of Donbass.

"There is no basis of truth to any of these allegations," Price said.

"These are false narratives that Russia is developing for use as a pretext for military action against Ukraine."

Price said that ahead of the Russian invasion of Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014, Moscow also claimed the government was persecuting the people there, many of whom are Russian speakers.

At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki also rejected the allegations as "false flag" ruses.

"We're in the window where we believe an attack could come at any time, and that would be preceded by a fabricated pretext," she said, referring to "fake videos, false accusations about chemical weapons or accounts of attacks on Russian soldiers that have not actually occurred."