- A US official says Biden would meet with Putin on Saturday.
- Every American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible, says Jake Sullivan.
- The Pentagon announced it would send 3,000 additional troops to bolster ally Poland.
Washington: The United States dramatically sounded the alarm over Ukraine on Friday, warning that a Russian invasion that begins with civilians caught bombing in the air could begin within days and tell American citizens to leave within 48 hours.
An attack by the more than 100,000 Russian troops currently gathered next to Ukraine “could happen any day now,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters in Washington.
Ignoring speculation that the Kremlin would never trigger the crisis while the Beijing Olympics were still underway in close Russian ally China, Sullivan said such an attack “could happen” before the Games end on Feb. 20.
The scenario of an imminent attack is “a very, very clear possibility,” Sullivan said.
While stressing that it was not yet known whether President Vladimir Putin had made a decision, Sullivan said “we cannot predict the exact determination,” Sullivan made it clear that the United States is bracing for the worst, including a “quick attack.” in the capital Kyiv.
“If a Russian attack on Ukraine continues, it will likely start with aerial bombardments and rocket attacks that could obviously kill civilians,” he said. “Every American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible, and in any case within 24 to 48 hours.”
Sullivan spoke shortly after Biden and six European leaders, the heads of NATO and the European Union, held talks about the worst crisis between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War.
A US official said Biden would meet with Putin on Saturday, while the French government said President Emmanuel Macron would also call the Russian leader on Saturday.
To underline the bleak outlook, a series of countries joined the exodus of diplomats and citizens from Ukraine as oil prices rose and US stocks plummeted.
Sullivan reiterated his warnings that Russia risks harsh Western sanctions, saying that NATO, which aims to push Putin out of Eastern Europe, is now “more cohesive, targeted and dynamic than at any time in recent history”.
The Pentagon announced it would send 3,000 additional troops to bolster ally Poland.
After the group phone call between US and European leaders, spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that “the aim is to prevent a war in Europe”. But if Moscow fails to pull out, “the allies are determined to jointly implement swift and deep sanctions against Russia.”
These sanctions would target the financial and energy sectors, said EU chief Ursula von der Leyen.
Russian naval forces and troops, including units brought in from across the country, now surround Ukraine to the south, east and north.
Russia, which denies any plan to attack Ukraine, controls all Crimea territory seized in 2014 and supports separatist forces controlling Ukraine’s Donbass region to the east.
The Kremlin says its goal is to get NATO to agree never to grant Ukraine membership and also to withdraw from Eastern European countries that are already part of the alliance, effectively putting Europe in spheres of influence of the Cold War ends. The United States and its European allies reject the demands and insist that NATO pose no threat to Russia.
In addition to the tensions, large-scale Russian military exercises were underway on Friday with its authoritarian ally Belarus, which is located just north of Kiev and also borders the European Union.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Friday it is also holding military exercises near the border with Ukraine in the Black Sea.
According to the head of the Norwegian military intelligence service, Russia is operationally ready to conduct a wide range of military operations in Ukraine and only needs to call the Kremlin.
The top US general and his Russian counterpart met by phone Friday, the Pentagon said, without giving details about the discussion.
And the European Union said its non-essential personnel should leave Ukraine, while Israel said families of its diplomats were being withdrawn. Norway joined Britain by telling its subjects to leave.
The growing alarm comes despite attempts at shuttle diplomacy by European officials.
Macron visited both Moscow and Kiev earlier this week and Scholz is expected to do the same in the coming days. Scholz will also hold his first face-to-face meeting with Putin in Moscow.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace was in Moscow on Friday for rare talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.
He was joined by UK chief of staff Tony Radakin, and the pair will also meet with top Russian army general Valery Gerasimov.
Wallace’s visit comes a day after British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss met her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow for talks that seemed fruitless and ended in mutual recriminations.
There was also disappointment after a separate meeting between Russian and Ukrainian negotiators, mediated by Germany and France. Sources describe the meeting as ‘difficult’.
In some of his grittiest comments yet, Biden told NBC News on Thursday that Americans should leave Ukraine because “we’re dealing with one of the largest militaries in the world” and “things can get crazy fast.”