US warns Russian invasion of Ukraine could begin at any time: live updates

Credit…Maxar Technologies., via Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration warned Friday that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could launch a major assault on Ukraine at any moment, after building up formidable land, sea and air forces on three sides of its smaller neighbor.

US intelligence officials initially thought Mr Putin was prepared to wait out the Winter Olympics in Beijing before possibly ordering an offensive, to avoid upsetting Chinese President Xi Jinping, a key ally. In recent days, they say, the timeline has started to move up, an acceleration that Biden administration officials began publicly acknowledging on Friday.

“We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Friday, adding that an invasion could begin “during the Olympics,” which are scheduled to end Feb. 20 and warned that all Americans would have to leave Ukraine within the next 24 to 48 hours.

US officials still do not know whether Mr Putin has decided to invade, Mr Sullivan insisted. “We are ready anyway,” he said. “Whatever happens next, the West is more united than it has been in years.”

The United States has gathered intelligence that Russia is discussing next Wednesday as a target date for the start of military action, officials said, acknowledging the possibility that mentioning a particular date could be part of a recovery effort. Russian disinformation. The combination of Russian troop movements and new information about a possible date helped spark the flurry of diplomatic activity and public warnings from NATO allies on Friday.

Antony J. Blinken, the Secretary of State, told reporters at a press conference in Melbourne that “an invasion could begin at any time. And, to be clear, that includes during the Olympics. Mr Blinken added that US officials “continue to see very disturbing signs of Russian escalation, including the arrival of new forces on the Ukrainian border”.

The United States and many other countries – including, recently, Britain, Japan, Norway, Latvia and Denmark – have issued a series of increasingly urgent calls for their citizens to leave the Ukraine. The United States has ruled out sending troops to defend Ukraine, but has increased deployments to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe, and on Friday the Pentagon ordered 3,000 more troops from Poland. .

US officials have warned of a grim toll if Mr Putin carries out a military invasion of Ukraine, including the potential death of 25,000 to 50,000 civilians, 5,000 to 25,000 members of the Ukrainian military and 3,000 to 10,000 members of the Russian army. On Friday, Sullivan said officials believed an attack would likely begin with missiles and air strikes, and continue with a ground invasion.

“Russia could very quickly choose to launch major military action against Ukraine,” Sullivan said, but added officials could not know exactly when or if Putin might decide to invade. As Mr Sullivan spoke, the president was preparing to depart for Camp David for the weekend – the roar of the blades of Marine One could be heard in the White House briefing room.

“The risk is now high enough and the threat is now sufficiently immediate that that is what caution demands,” Sullivan said. “We think he may very well give the final order,” he added, “but we are not here in front of you today to say the order has been given.”

On Thursday evening, President Biden told NBC News’ Lester Holt that Americans should leave Ukraine immediately, following a State Department advisory that “military action may begin at any time and without warning. “, his most brutal language to date. And the president said that in the event of an all-out war, the United States would not send troops to rescue Americans and would risk a confrontation with Russia.

“We are dealing with one of the greatest armies in the world,” Mr Biden said. “It’s a very different situation, and things could quickly get crazy.”

Mr. Sullivan said on Friday that he expected the president to meet with Mr. Putin soon by phone.

Earlier Friday, Mr. Biden met by phone with other transatlantic leaders in a call that included Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany; Prime Ministers Boris Johnson of Great Britain, Mario Draghi of Italy and Justin Trudeau of Canada; and Presidents Emmanuel Macron of France, Andrzej Duda of Poland, Klaus Iohannis of Romania, Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission and Charles Michel of the European Council; and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

The leaders met for about 80 minutes, in a call initially meant to focus on “diplomacy and deterrence”, the White House said.

The call came as Russia is building up its forces around Ukraine – in Belarus, western Russia and Crimea, the territory Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 – in what the US and NATO leaders said appears to be preparation for an invasion.

Ukraine said on Friday that Russian-backed separatists were holding military exercises in the part of eastern Ukraine they control, at the same time Russia is holding drills near Ukraine.

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