Ukraine Says Russia Sending Snipers, Tanks to Border to 'Provoke Return Fire' From Its Troops

Russia's deployment of tanks and snipers to its border with eastern Ukraine is an effort to "provoke return fire," Ukrainian authorities alleged Tuesday, as fears continue to mount about a possible Russian invasion.

Though Russia's massing of troops near the Ukraine border is a somewhat recent development, tensions have been present and growing between the two nations since Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

Ukraine's Defense Ministry said in a statement that "the enemy increased the number of sniper pairs in readiness to inflict casualties on the personnel of the Joint Forces, destroy video surveillance elements and provoke return fire."

Additionally, Russia has been running "training camps under the leadership of regular servicemen of the Russian Armed Forces," while also bolstering its military presence near the border "with additional 122-millimeter self-propelled artillery vehicles, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles," the statement said.

Eastern Ukraine hosts a long-brewing separatist movement that Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of supporting. Moscow has repeatedly denied involvement in the conflict, which has seen more than 14,000 people killed.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden are expected to discuss Ukraine tensions during a high-stakes video call Tuesday. During the call, Biden is prepared to tell Putin about his administration's capability to take retaliatory actions that would exact "a very real cost" on Russia's economy, according to White House officials.

"We've consulted significantly with our allies and believe we have a path forward that would impose significant and severe harm on the Russian economy," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday. "You can call that a threat. You can call that a fact. You can call that preparation. You can call it whatever you want to call it."

Meanwhile, Putin said last week that he intends to demand guarantees from Biden that NATO will not expand eastward toward Russia or deploy weapons near the Russian border.

Biden-Putin Call
Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden are expected to discuss Ukraine tensions during a video call Tuesday. Above, Biden and Putin arrive to meet at the Villa la Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16, 2021. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the allegations on Tuesday, redirecting questions to Russia's Defense Ministry, which has not yet commented on the statement.

Tensions have reignited again this year amid reports of a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine's border, which Ukrainian and Western officials feared could indicate Moscow's plan to invade its ex-Soviet neighbor.

U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year.

Moscow has denied plans to attack Ukraine and in turn blamed Ukraine for its own military buildup in the war-torn east, alleging that Kyiv might try to reclaim the areas controlled by the rebels by force.

At the same time, Putin has urged the West to provide guarantees that would preclude NATO from expanding to Ukraine and deploying the alliance's weapons on its territory.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Russian Troop Buildup
Russia’s deployment of tanks and snipers to its border with eastern Ukraine is an effort to “provoke return fire,” Ukrainian authorities alleged Tuesday, as fears continue to mount about a possible Russian invasion. Above, the Kremlin's Spasskaya tower and St. Basil's Cathedral are seen as it snows in Moscow on December 7, 2021. Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images