U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Russia is ready to attack Ukraine “in the coming days” and the U.S. has a clear idea of how the Kremlin would proceed.
Speaking at the United Nations Security Council Thursday, Mr. Blinken outlined the trajectory of a planned Russian invasion, starting with a faked attack on Russia and leading to an assault on the Ukrainian capital.
He also pushed back against the Kremlin’s insistence some of its forces were withdrawing.
Mr. Blinken’s warnings came as U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin described Russian preparations, such as expanding their supply of blood at the front lines.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, announced a planned speech to his country’s parliament and escalated his demands that NATO countries stop helping Ukraine, while his government kicked out a top American diplomat.
U.S. President Joe Biden said there was a “very high” likelihood Russia will invade Ukraine “within the next several days.”
“Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine,” Mr. Biden told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House Thursday.
In his speech to the Security Council, Mr. Blinken said that, contrary to Moscow’s insistence this week that it was pulling back troops, Russia is actually adding to the 150,000 soldiers already encircling Ukraine.
“Our information indicates clearly that these forces – including ground troops, aircraft, ships – are preparing to launch an attack on Ukraine in the coming days,” the Secretary of State said.
He said Russia planned to fabricate a terrorist bombing, the discovery of a mass grave, drone strike against civilians or chemical-weapons attack as an excuse to invade.
The Russian attack would begin with missile strikes, a bombing campaign, cyberattacks and the shutdown of communications in Ukraine, Mr. Blinken said. This would be followed by a ground invasion, in which Russian tanks and infantry would try to capture Kyiv.
The Secretary of State also tried to answer questions about the quality of U.S. intelligence, contending that, if Russia really did not plan to invade, it would not be massing its army on the border.
Following a NATO meeting in Brussels, Mr. Austin said Russian forces have been moving closer to Ukraine in recent days, and that the Kremlin had dispatched more combat planes and was bringing in supplies of blood.
“I was a soldier myself not that long ago, and I know first-hand that you don’t do these things for no reason. And you certainly don’t do them if you’re getting ready to pack up and go home,” said Mr. Austin, a retired general.
Mr. Putin on Thursday said he was planning to convene meetings to prepare a speech he would give to both chambers of the Russian parliament.
The Kremlin also repeated a threat to take unspecified “military-technical measures” if NATO does not accede to its demands, including guaranteeing that Ukraine will never be allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
In a letter to the U.S. government, published by Mr. Putin’s administration, Moscow further demanded that the U.S. and NATO take back all of the weapons they have previously given Ukraine and pull all of their advisers out of the country.
The U.S. said Thursday that Russia had kicked out Bart Gorman, the second-highest-ranking American diplomat in the country, last week without reason.
NATO has repeatedly insisted that the door remain open to eventual Ukrainian membership. Mr. Biden has offered to negotiate with Russia on other issues, such as arms control.
O. Yermakova, a Ukrainian political scientist, said the Kremlin’s letter puts Ukraine in an “impossible situation”: keep its NATO weapons and be accused by Russia of being a security threat, or return them and be more easily overrun in the case of an invasion.
“This Russian response doesn’t give too much hope, because it doesn’t show that they are willing to negotiate at all,” said Ms. Yermakova.
The latest warnings from the U.S. come after months of Russian escalations, accompanied by repeated insistences from the Kremlin that the White House should stop worrying. Ukrainian officials have been more cautious, suggesting it is not clear what exactly Moscow intends. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky even joked this week about media leaks from U.S. government sources pinpointing Feb. 16 as the start date of an invasion, facetiously referring to Wednesday as “the day of the attack.”
Ms. Yermakova said Kyiv may be deliberately trying to turn down the temperature in hopes of avoiding actions by the Ukrainian military or civilians – such as escalated attacks in the Donbas region or confrontations at the Russian embassy – that would provoke Moscow.
She said Mr. Zelensky may also have calculated that playing it cool will show Mr. Putin his threats are ineffective.
“The entire situation is seen as psychological pressure on Ukraine, so this is also a way of resisting,” she said, “showing that this is not working, that we are not panicking, that we are standing our ground.”
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