NATO is worried Russia could be trying to create a pretext for an invasion in Ukraine, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after a two-day meeting of NATO defence ministers.

With Western fears high that Russia is planning to invade, tensions also spiked Thursday along the line that separates Ukrainian forces from Russia-backed separatists in the country's east, with the parties accusing each other of intensive shelling.
With Western fears high that Russia is planning to invade, tensions also spiked Thursday along the line that separates Ukrainian forces from Russia-backed separatists in the country's east, with the parties accusing each other of intensive shelling. (Reuters)

Russia has everything in place to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine at short notice, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said.

"They have enough troops, enough capabilities to launch a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine with very little or no warning time," he told reporters on Thursday at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.

"That is what makes the situation so dangerous," he added. 

"We are concerned that Russia is trying to stage a pretext for an armed attack against Ukraine, there is still no clarity, no certainty about the Russian intentions," he said.

President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia does not want a war in Europe.

NATO allies also accused Russia of misleading the world and disseminating “disinformation” by saying it was returning some troops to bases, charging that Moscow has instead added as many as 7,000 more troops near its tense border with Ukraine. 

Intensive shelling

“We have seen the opposite of some of the statements. We have seen an increase of troops over the last 48 hours, up to 7,000," said British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace ahead of a meeting on Thursday of the western alliance in Brussels.

That squared with what a US administration official said a day earlier.

READ MORE: NATO seeks to bolster eastern flank over Russia threat

British Armed Forces Minister James Heappey even called Russia’s claim to be withdrawing troops “disinformation.”

With Western fears high that Russia is planning to invade, tensions also spiked on Thursday along the line that separates Ukrainian forces from Russia-backed separatists in the country's east, with the parties accusing each other of intensive shelling.

After a handful of positive signals from Russia that lowered the temperature in the crisis earlier in the week, the pendulum appeared to be swinging in the opposite direction again.

With an estimated 150,000-plus troops massed near Ukraine, the Kremlin offered to keep pursuing diplomatic solutions – an overture the NATO chief welcomed, even as he and others warned that the US-led alliance has still seen no sign of the military withdrawal that Moscow announced.

Moscow said several times this week that some forces are pulling back to their bases, but it gave virtually no details that would allow for an independent assessment of the scope and direction of the troop movement, and Western leaders quickly cast doubt on those statements.

On Thursday, NATO allies knocked down the Russian assertions again – and warned that they are ready to counter any aggression. 

READ MORE: NATO sees ‘no sign of de-escalation’ as Russia pulls back some troops

Already the alliance has moved troops and military equipment into Eastern Europe — in a display of resolve meant to deter any Russian aggression and underline its intent to defend NATO’s eastern members, in the unlikely event that they too become a target.