'Explosion' in Ukraine's separatist capital after warnings of Russian 'false flag' attack

18 February 2022, 08:40 | Updated: 18 February 2022, 20:29

By Sophie Barnett

An explosion which Russian media claimed was a car bomb has rocked the pro-Russian separatist capital Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

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The car is reported to have blown up near the headquarters in Donetsk on Friday evening, according to Russia's state news agency, RIA Novosti.

The blast was an apparent assassination attempt targeting a top Russian separatist official, who escaped unharmed.

It comes after warnings from Western leaders of a so-called 'false flag' operation from Russia, which would involve a staged attack on Putin's separatist allies to provide a pretext for the Kremlin to send in its forces.

A mass evacuation of civilians from was also announced earlier on Friday, with a loud warning siren sounded in the centre of the city, according to a Reuters witness.

The head of the self-declared Luhansk People's Republic, east Ukraine's second separatist-held region, also announced an evacuation of residents.

Meanwhile, the UK's Foreign Office announced on Friday evening that the British embassy in Ukraine's capital Kyiv will "temporarily" relocate to the west of the country amid fears over an invasion.

In a statement posted on the UK Government website, the FCDO said: "The British embassy office in Kyiv is temporarily relocating.

"Embassy staff are operating from the British embassy office in Lviv."

The Foreign Office is also advising "against all but essential travel" to Belarus and the Transnistria region of Moldova, which both neighbour Ukraine.

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It comes after security minister Damian Hinds told LBC on Friday morning that there is "no sign" of Russia reversing its military build-up on the border of Ukraine - despite the claims from the Kremlin - but Britain is prepared for "whatever Putin decides to do".

"The unavoidable truth is that there is this huge build-up of military personnel and equipment on multiple sides, multiple fronts, to Ukraine," Mr Hinds told Nick Ferrari at Breakfast with Tom Swarbrick.

"We have to be ready for whatever Vladimir Putin decides to do."

He said there is "no sign" of that build-up slowing, let alone reversing, and so we need to be ready for whatever action Russia decides to take - if any.

But he is hopeful of a diplomatic route, which he "encouraged President Putin to take".

Russian-backed rebels were previously blamed for shelling a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine in a 'false flag attack' on Thursday, described by Boris Johnson as a "spurious provocation for Russian action".

Ukraine's military said there were no injuries, although two civilians were reportedly suffering from shell-shock in the attack in the Donbass region.

But Russian-backed rebels have made accusations of their own, saying Ukrainian forces had fired across the ceasefire line.

Boris Johnson has since confirmed it was a false flag operation to "discredit the Ukrainians, designed to create a pretext, a spurious provocation for Russian action".

Speaking about the latest developments on a visit to RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire, the Prime Minister said: "I wish I could give everybody better news about this, but I have to tell you that the picture is continuing to be very grim.

"Today, as I'm sure you've already picked up, a kindergarten was shelled in what we are taking to be - well, we know - was a false flag operation designed to discredit the Ukrainians, designed to create a pretext, a spurious provocation for Russian action.

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"We fear very much that is the kind of thing we will see more of over the next few days.

"What we are doing is making that we do everything to strengthen the package of sanctions that will follow immediately should there be a Russian invasion."

The attacks, which reportedly happened in the Donbass region, are said to be on a similar scale to other violations of the ceasefire in recent years.

However, they come at a time of a looming Russian invasion and fears the separatist conflict could be used as justification for an attack.

The Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Russia was "clearly the aggressor" in the shelling, and Britain and the United States accused Russia of attempting to "manufacture a pretext" to invade Ukraine.

US secretary of state Antony Blinken said that while they did not know precisely how a Russian invasion would play out, it could begin with a "violent event" which Moscow would blame on Ukraine.

"It could be a fabricated so-called terrorist bombing inside Russia; the invented discovery of a mass grave; a stage drone strike against civilians; or a fake, even a real attack using chemical weapons," he said.

This could be followed by the Russian government "theatrically" convening emergency meetings to address "the so-called crisis".

"The government will issue proclamations declaring that Russia must respond to defend Russian citizens or ethnic Russians in Ukraine," he said.

"Next, the attack is planned to begin. Russian missiles and bombs will drop across Ukraine. Communications will be banned. Cyberattacks will shut down key Ukrainian institutions.

"After that, Russian tanks and soldiers will advance on key targets that have already been identified and mapped out in detailed plans. We believe these targets include... Ukraine's capital, Kyiv."

Tensions have been building between Russia and Ukraine for months, but many believe they could come to a head any day now.

Whilst Moscow has repeatedly denied it is planning an invasion of its neighbour, the amassing of Russian troops on the border and the creation of field hospitals appears to suggest otherwise.

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