Putin's Buildup Continues; NATO Peace Pleas Fail; Attack Now Possible ‘With Little to No Warning’
White House and Pentagon officials warn Russia could invade ‘this week;’ US embassy ordered empty.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin is continuing the military buildup on the Ukrainian border in what looks like preparation for a major invasion, Biden administration officials said Monday.
Despite Russian officials’ claims that military drills near Ukraine are winding down, White House and Pentagon officials said additional Russian troops and capabilities continue to move toward the Ukrainian border. White House deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday that new Russian forces are arriving “every day.”
“We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time,” she said at a briefing. “It could begin this week, despite a lot of speculation that it would happen after the Olympics.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Moscow has moved additional military capabilities to the Ukrainian border over just the past 24 to 48 hours. Russia has about 130,000 troops surrounding Ukraine, including in Belarus to the North, Crimea to the South and near Donetsk to the West, according to the New York Times. Russian ships are also exercising nearby in the Black Sea, which prompted a formal protest from Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
“Should [Putin] choose to invade again, he is doing all the things you would expect him to do to make sure he’s ready for that option,” Kirby said, meaning an invasion could happen “maybe even this week…with little to no warning.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote Monday on Facebook that “we are told that February 16 will be the day of attack. We will make it a day of unity. The decree has already been signed.” However, a senior Ukrainian official reportedly walked back the comment, saying the president was being “ironic” and did not literally mean that an attack would begin on Wednesday.
Asked specifically about the possibility of an invasion beginning Wednesday, Kirby declined to talk about intelligence findings, but said it could happen any day.
Amid the increased threat of violence, the U.S. is closing its embassy in Kyiv and temporarily moving all operations to Lviv, near the Polish border. On Saturday, the State Department announced it was evacuating most embassy personnel from Ukraine and ending routine consular services, and then moved a small contingent of personnel to Lviv to provide emergency services.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will leave Tuesday on a trip to reassure allies and visit troops deployed to eastern Europe. Austin will stop first in Belgium to attend a meeting of NATO’s defense ministers. He will then travel to Poland, where he will visit the American soldiers temporarily deployed there to deter Russia, and to Lithuania to visit American troops and “reaffirm that the U.S. stands with Lithuania and the Baltic states,” Kirby said.