Senior Biden administration officials and US intelligence sources stepped up warnings on Sunday that Europe is at risk of war, saying Russian forces gathered for weeks along the Ukrainian border are now in a position to attack after receiving the Kremlin’s order to strike.
President Joe Biden, who said Friday that a Russian attack was possible “in the next few days,” met with the National Security Council on Sunday, The Washington Post reported. US leaders, who along with their European allies have warned of harsh sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine, allege Russian officials are pushing misinformation to create a pretext for an invasion while claiming to be organizing military exercises.
Ukraine’s Joint Forces Command issued a statement accusing Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine of launching “intensive weapons fire against their own territory with the aim of ‘falsely accusing’ the Ukrainian Armed Forces and further aggravate the situation,” CNN reported Sunday evening.
A US military official told The Associated Press over the weekend that up to half of Russian forces surrounding Ukraine had moved to attack positions near the border.
“Everything leading up to the actual invasion appears to be happening,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on Sunday. “All of these false flag operations, all of these provocations to create justifications – all of this is already happening.”
Blinken added that US officials believe Putin “made the decision.”
Intelligence shared with the president last week led Biden to warn Friday that an attack could be imminent, according to the Post, CBS News, New York Times and CNN.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III said on Friday that Russia had bolstered its forces in and around Ukraine, including in Belarus, where officials say a lightly protected border is particularly vulnerable to attack, The Times reported. .
“They’re unfolding and ready to strike now,” Austin said.
Belarus has announced the extension of Russian troop exercises that were due to end in the country on Sunday, heightening concerns that forces could attack the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, less than a three-hour drive away, according to the report. Associated Press.
Before leaving the annual Munich security conference, Vice President Kamala Harris suggested to reporters on Sunday that Europe was facing a crisis it had not seen since World War II, AP reported.
“It’s been over 70 years, and in those 70 years…there has been peace and security,” she said. “We are talking about the real possibility of war in Europe.”
Harris promised Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the United States would continue to support his country’s sovereignty.
“Let me be clear, I can say with absolute certainty: if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States, along with our allies and partners, will impose significant and unprecedented economic costs,” Harris said. to world leaders in Munich.
Blinken says the United States remains open to diplomacy.
“Until the tanks roll and the planes fly, we will use every opportunity and every minute we have to see if diplomacy can still dissuade President Putin from pursuing this,” he said on Sunday. .
A former Soviet republic, Ukraine gained independence in 1991. Russian troops invaded Crimea in 2014, leading to the region’s annexation, a source of ongoing tension between Putin, Zelensky and Western leaders.
In March 2014, former President Barack Obama issued an executive order recognizing Ukraine’s sovereignty before ordering a series of sanctions against Russian and Ukrainian entities, “including 14 defense companies and individuals in the inner circle of Putin”, as well as limitations on several Russian banks and banks. energy companies.
Ukraine is not part of the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and Zelenskyy has pressed Western leaders to come up with sanctions plans immediately — not after a Russian invasion.
“Our world’s security architecture is fragile, it’s outdated,” Zelenskyy told world leaders in Munich, The Washington Post reported. “We have to act… it’s not about the war in Ukraine, it’s about the war in Europe.”
French President Emmanuel Macron reportedly spoke with Putin on Sunday for almost two hours. Macron told reporters he had persuaded the Russian leader to endorse ceasefire talks, The Guardian reported.
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