- The US leader insisted it was “not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table.
- The Kremlin insists it has no plans to attack its neighboring country.
- The US Secretary of State accused the Kremlin of mounting a propaganda campaign to create an excuse for war.
Washington: President Joe Biden said Friday he is “convinced” Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine within a week, an event that would lead to Western sanctions that would turn Russia into what one US official called a “pariah” .
“As of this moment, I am convinced that he has made the decision,” Biden said in televised White House comments.
Biden said the attack could come in the next “week” or “days” and that the target would be the capital Kiev, “a city of 2.8 million innocent people”.
The US leader insisted it was “not too late to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table”, but warned that if an attack comes, the Russian president will “slam the door on diplomacy”.
The Kremlin insists it has no plans to attack its neighbor, which has infuriated Russia by seeking long-term integration with NATO and the European Union.
However, the United States says that with an estimated 149,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders — a staggering 190,000, including the Russian-backed separatist forces in the east — it’s only a matter of when.
In addition to the jitters, the Russian Defense Ministry announced that Putin would personally oversee previously scheduled nuclear missile exercises on Saturday.
And on the ground in disputed eastern Ukraine, sporadic clashes fueled a growing sense of fear.
An AFP reporter near the front between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian territory in the Lugansk region heard explosions and saw damaged civilian buildings on the side of the line in Kiev.
Fears grew that only a spark — which Washington warns could be a deliberate Russian-induced “false flag” incident — could now be needed to spark the biggest military confrontation in Europe since World War II.
A US defense official said more than 40 percent of the troops surrounding Ukraine are now “unrolled” in a position to go on the offensive.
Biden spoke to fellow NATO allies in a conference call Friday to concretize plans for Western economic sanctions against Russia if his troops attacked Ukraine.
“We will continue to keep pace,” Biden said afterwards.
According to a senior official, the sanctions package will be devastating.
“If Russia invades Ukraine, it would become a pariah to the international community,” Daleep Singh, US deputy security adviser for international economics, told reporters. “It will be isolated from global financial markets and deprived of the most advanced technological inputs.”
Singh predicted “intense capital outflows, increasing pressure on the currency, rising inflation, higher borrowing costs, economic contraction and the erosion of its productive capacity.”
In the eastern separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, Moscow-backed leaders tried to turn the narrative of Russia as an aggressor.
They accused Kiev of planning its own offensive to retake the eastern territories and said government forces were conducting sabotage missions. Civilians were ordered to evacuate.
But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accused the Kremlin of mounting a propaganda campaign to create an excuse for war.
Blinken told the Munich conference what has happened “in the past 24 to 48 hours is part of a scenario that is already in place of creating false provocations, then having to respond to those provocations and then finally new aggression.” against Ukraine.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister said “Russian disinformation” about an alleged Ukrainian attack was being spread to fuel war fever.
Biden praised the Ukrainian military for showing “restraint” and “great judgment”, saying the claim that they were the ones preparing aggression “defies basic logic”.
Both sides in eastern Ukraine claimed the other stepped up violence amid a low-profile firefight.
Videos circulating on Russian-language social media showed sirens blaring in Donetsk as Moscow-backed separatist militia leaders ordered the civilian evacuation across the border into Russia.
Denis Pushilin, head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would “order soldiers to go on the offensive”.
In Moscow, Putin met with the authoritarian leader of Belarus, who receives tens of thousands of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, and said he saw a “deterioration of the situation”.
But the Ukrainian command said Russian-backed separatist forces had violated a ceasefire 53 times between midnight and 5 p.m. Friday.
Twenty children and 18 adults at a kindergarten in the government-run village of Stanytsia Luganska were lucky enough to escape almost completely unharmed on Thursday when an artillery shell hit the building.
Russia’s defense ministry sent a chilling reminder of the stakes of any East-West confrontation when it announced that Putin would oversee the “exercise of strategic deterrent forces … which will launch ballistic and cruise missiles.”
The Air Force, units of the Southern Military District, as well as the Northern and Black Sea Fleets were to be involved in the missile tests.
Russia says it won’t pull out of Ukraine unless western countries agree never to admit Ukraine to NATO and withdraw US troops from Eastern Europe, effectively bringing a new version of the continent’s Cold War spheres of influence is being created.
The conflict between heavily armed pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces in the east of the country has been raging for eight years, killing more than 14,000 and displacing more than 1.5 million from their homes.