Russian Invasion of Ukraine Could Happen ‘At Any Time,’ Warns White House
President orders 3,000 more US troops to Poland; American citizens told to flee “immediate” threat in Ukraine.
Three thousand more American soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division will deploy to Poland to reassure allies on NATO’s eastern flank as the White House warned Friday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen “at any time.”
They will join the 1,700 troops and key “enablers” already ordered to the country by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Feb. 2, a senior defense official said in a statement Friday. The official said almost two-thirds of that first group have already arrived, and are under the command of Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, who leads the 82nd Airborne Division.
The new group includes members of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and other units of the 82nd, including headquarters elements, said Lt. Col. Brett Lea, a spokesman for the Division. They are expected to be in Poland by early next week.
The Feb. 2 order also sent 300 soldiers from the XVIII Airborne Corps to Germany; they have arrived in-country, the statement said. They are led by Lt. Gen. Michael Kurilla, the XVIII commander who was just on Capitol Hill for his nomination hearing to lead U.S. Central Command.
“All told, these 5,000 additional personnel comprise a highly mobile and flexible force, capable of multiple missions,” the statement said. “They are being deployed to reassure our NATO allies, deter any potential aggression against NATO’s eastern flank, train with host-nation forces, and contribute to a wide range of contingencies. They will report to Gen. Tod Wolters, Commander, U.S. European Command.”
The new deployments are temporary, the statement said, to supplement more than 80,000 U.S. troops in Europe who are there either permanently or on a rotational basis.
Among these 80,000 troops is the 2nd Cavalry Regiment, a Stryker squadron of about 1,000 soldiers. The Feb. 2 deployment order dispatched the regiment from Vilseck, Germany, to Romania to augment rotational U.S. troops already in the country.
The number also includes the small number of U.S. troops currently In Ukraine. Fewer than 200 soldiers from the Florida National Guard assigned to Joint Multinational Training Group-Ukraine are there on a rotational advise-and-assist mission. These soldiers “are continuing with its mission to advise and assist the Ukrainian armed forces,” U.S. Army Europe and Africa said in an email Friday.
Also on Friday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said a Russian invasion of Ukraine could begin “at any time.” He disputed reports that any military action would likely wait until after the Olympics, saying that there’s a “credible” threat that an attack could happen during the Games.
Sullivan urgently urged Americans to leave Ukraine within the next 24 to 48 hours, adding that the president will not send troops into Ukraine to evacuate those who choose to stay if a conflict breaks out.
“The risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that this is what prudence demands. If you stay, you are assuming risk with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave and there is no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation,” Sullivan said, warning that a Russian attack would likely cut commercial air and train service and close roads.
After months of buildup, Russia has about 130,000 troops near the Ukraine border, the New York Times reports, citing “information obtained by Ukrainian and Western officials as well as independent military analysts and satellite imagery.” Satellite photos released Wednesday by Maxar Technologies show new arrivals on Crimea and near Kursk in western Russia, The Russian troops nearly surround Ukraine, from the north in Belarus, to the east where Russian-backed separatists have been fighting Ukrainian forces since 2014 after Crimea was illegally annexed. Several Russian warships are also conducting exercises in the nearby Black Sea, and have declared the waters around the key Ukrainian port of Odessa “unsafe for navigation.”