Russia's defense chief is being widely cited as saying on Tuesday that American private military firms have positioned contractors in the war-town Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine where they are preparing a "provocation using unknown chemical components."
The allegation came from Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu while addressing a defense ministry-wide conference attended by Putin, focused on the growing crisis with the West centered on Ukraine. He suggested that pro-Ukrainian forces with the help of US mercenaries are preparing to stage chemical attack false flag in order to draw in support from NATO - likely which would also invite a heavier Pentagon presence.
The scenario appears similar to how Russia has spoken about Syria in the past. For example the Kremlin has accused anti-Assad jihadist insurgents of staging 'chemical false flags' in order to invite US bombing campaigns against Damascus and government facilities.
Defense Minister Shoigu was quoted in the independent Moscow Times as follows on Tuesday:
"We have identified the presence of over 120 members of U.S. mercenary groups in the cities of Avdiivka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations…Tanks filled with unidentified chemical components were delivered to the cities of Avdeevka and Krasny Liman to commit provocations," the state-run TASS news agency quoted Shoigu as saying.
In addition to Western military contractors being in the region, the top Russian defense official further blasted the US military for "building up its presence" near Russia's borders.
However, he seemed to be responding to specific weekend reports that the US and NATO are mulling sending additional troops into Bulgaria and Romania.
⚡️Shoigu said that American PMCs are preparing a provocation with chemical components in eastern Ukraine pic.twitter.com/DCfcGhjkHW— Victor (@vicktop55) December 21, 2021
"The United States is building up its military presence at Russian borders. In the countries of Eastern Europe, American units with a total number of about 8,000 servicemen are deployed on a rotational basis," the Russian defense chief said.
Already on multiple occasions over the past month the Kremlin has accused Ukrainian national forces of building up forces and munitions in the Donbass area. Kiev has been charged with seeking to provoke Russia, so that Moscow can be blamed for any possible escalation that follows. It's currently an accusation being hurled by both sides against the other.
Meanwhile, President Putin himself addressed Tuesday's defense conference, declaring that Russia is ready and willing to respond in the instance of observed NATO military expansion close to Russia's borders.
"In case of clearly aggressive policy continued by Western colleagues, we will take adequate military-technical measures and respond toughly to unfriendly steps," he said. He added that Moscow "has the full right" to take actions ensuring security and sovereignty; but he also left the door open for urgent deconfliction negotiations with Brussels: "Russia stands for equal and indivisible security in the entire Eurasian space," he added.