White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the separatists’ request for Russian help was an example of the sort of “false-flag” operation that the West had warned Moscow would use to create a pretext for war. “So we’ll continue to call out what we see as false-flag operations or efforts to spread misinformation about what the actual status is on the ground,” she said.

The Kremlin said rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine asked Russia for military assistance Wednesday to help fend off Ukrainian “aggression” while Ukraine declared a nationwide state of emergency amid growing fears of an all-out invasion by Russian troops, AP reports.

Fears of an imminent Russian offensive against its neighbor soared after President Vladimir Putin received authorization to use military force outside his country, and the West responded with sanctions.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the rebel chiefs wrote to Putin, pleading with him to intervene after Ukrainian shelling caused civilian deaths and crippled vital infrastructure.

The appeal comes after Putin recognized the independence of Russia-backed rebel regions in eastern Ukraine and signed friendship treaties with them.

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