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US warns: Russia may invade Ukraine at any moment

Washington, kept the lines of communication open with Moscow, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov

US warns: Russia may invade Ukraine at any moment

The US warned on Tuesday, in a clear escalation of tensions over Ukraine, that Russia may invade Ukraine at any time. Despite describing the situation as "extremely dangerous," Washington maintained diplomatic relations with Moscow, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken communicating with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, and both leaders planning to meet in Geneva this week.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin for inciting the situation by deploying 100,000 Russian troops along Ukraine's border, saying, "This includes moving Russian forces into Belarus recently for joint exercises and conducting additional exercises on Ukraine's eastern borders. Let's be clear. Our view is that this is an extremely dangerous situation. We are now at a stage where Russia could, at any point, launch an attack in Ukraine…That's more stark than we have been."

Psaki repeated the US view that if Russia does not follow the diplomatic road, it will suffer "severe consequences."

Blinken will initially travel to Ukraine, where he plans to emphasise the importance of democracy, according to a senior State Department official, "US support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine". He will then visit Germany – where, according to the same official, Blinken will continue intensive consultations with European allies and partners "as part of our unified response to Russia's actions".

He will meet with Lavrov in Geneva on Friday. According to the top officer, "The United States does not want conflict. We want peace. President Putin has it in his power to take steps to de-escalate this crisis so the United States and Russia can pursue a relationship that is not based on hostility or crisis."

US authorities have increased their warnings about Russian actions in recent weeks. Recent bilateral negotiations in Geneva, NATO-Russia talks in Brussels, and talks in Vienna under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) – of which both the US and Russia are members – have failed to break the deadlock.

The advance of Russian troops into Belarus is the most recent source of tension. According to a second senior State Department official, "Reports of Russian troop movements towards Belarus, which these movements are supposedly under the auspices of regularly scheduled joint military exercises, are concerning. The timing is notable, and of course raises concerns that Russia could intend to station troops in Belarus under the guise of joint military exercises in order, potentially, to attack Ukraine from the north."

The official claimed that Belarus's upcoming changes to its constitution included "language that could be interpreted as paving the way for Russia to garrison forces on Belarusian territory"; this could indicate Belarus's plans to "allow Russian conventional and nuclear forces" to be stationed on its territory. The official added that more than a question of Kremlin's intent, the issue was of capabilities. "What it represents is an increased capability for Russia to launch this attack, increased opportunity, increased avenues and increased routes."

The US was afraid, according to the first official, that Russia was preparing a pretext for an invasion. "This idea that Russia could be laying the groundwork to have the option of fabricating a pretext for invasion – whether it's through sabotage activities, information operations, or troop movements – this is something we are paying very close attention to." Giving a more specific timeline, the official said, "Russian military plans to begin activities several weeks before a military invasion are something we have been watching closely, and our assessment has been that could happen anytime between mid-January and mid-February."

While the Pentagon reiterated that the Russians have shown no signals of de-escalation, it was more cautious about Putin's ultimate purpose. John Kirby, the Pentagon's press secretary, informed reporters, "It would be difficult for us to say with specificity and certainty what we know Mr. Putin is driving at here. He clearly is building up a force posture there that provides him multiple options. It's just difficult to know right now what options he's going to choose and we still don't believe that he's made a final decision."

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