‘They Could Go At Any Hour Now’; US Official Warns of Larger Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Russian troopships, 120 battalion tactical groups “have uncoiled,” hinting at a far deeper incursion.
Russian forces are set to push much farther and with far more military power into Ukraine, extending their invasion beyond the past days’ move into breakaway regions and possibly seizing control of Ukrainian airspace, a senior defense official told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday.
“It is our assessment that [Russian leader Vladimir Putin] is fully prepared to conduct a large-scale invasion and that that is a likely option,” the official told reporters on the condition they not be identified.
Putin has arrayed more than 120 battalion tactical groups, numbering more than 150,000 troops, along Ukraine’s border and sent more than two dozen warships, including more than 10 troopships, to the Black Sea.
“And those ships exist for one reason, and that's to put boots on the ground,” the official said.
“They have uncoiled, they're ready to go,” the official said. “They could go at any hour now.”
The U.S. has manned and unmanned surveillance aircraft flying over Ukraine but that could change depending on what Putin does, the official said.
“We will continue to try to have as much visibility as we can for as long as we can. The safety of our air crews is obviously going to be paramount, and to our assets as well because not all assets are manned,” the official said. “If he goes in a big way, and he's able to own and manipulate the airspace, obviously that's going to change a lot of our calculus.”
The U.S. flew hundreds of tons of antitank and defensive weapons into Ukraine as Russia built up its forces on the border. If Russia controls Ukraine airspace, the U.S. will continue to try and aid Ukraine but it would no longer be through airlift, the official said.
“There are different ways you can help provide support and we're exploring those ways in case air transport is not possible,” the official said.
Many of the forces are five to 50 kilometers from Ukraine, and the vast majority are in their final pre-attack position, the official said.
On Tuesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Russian forces had moved into the breakaway Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. President Joe Biden warned that Russia would likely seek additional territory beyond those regions.
Putin “made it very clear in his speech the other day that he does not recognize Ukraine's sovereignty, he does not recognize their right to exist as a separate state,” the official said. That “was pretty telling.”
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