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White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said a Russian military invasion of Ukraine could begin at any time and urged Americans in Ukraine to leave now.
The US State Department has ordered the departure of almost all embassy staff in Kyiv. Consular services will also be suspended on Sunday, according to a notice. In January, the department ordered family members of embassy staff to leave Ukraine.
“We’re not saying a decision has been made,” Sullivan said, declining to go into intelligence details beyond the arrival of new Russian forces on the Ukrainian border. He spoke to reporters on Friday after President Biden spoke with transatlantic leaders about the situation and the potential response.
“I want to be clear: It could start during the Olympics despite a lot of speculation that it wouldn’t happen until after the Olympics,” Sullivan said.
Biden is expected to speak by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday morning.
On Friday evening, a senior US military official added an outline of warnings for Americans to leave Ukraine.
The official said Friday night “We have no evidence that Putin has made a decision.” However, the United States is monitoring Russian troop deployments and the official said something had been detected in recent days, which has greatly increased fears that an attack could occur.
The most recent information may not be irrefutable proof, but rather an accumulation of information over time.
Russian troops have yet to move to Ukraine’s borders and Russia has insisted they are only doing drills. However, the official said the troops are positioned to strike towards kyiv and along several other routes where they would massively outnumber the Ukrainian defenders.
The official nevertheless claimed that Putin is about to make a historic mistake, that it would be much easier to invade Ukraine than to leave the country.
Sullivan would not predict when a Russian military attack might occur
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP
Meanwhile, the United States continues to reduce the size of its diplomatic footprint in Kyiv, Sullivan said.
“All Americans in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible, and in any event within the next 24 to 48 hours,” he said, noting that a Russian invasion would likely begin with aerial bombardments and attacks. missiles followed by a massive ground assault. force, which could cut air, rail and road routes.
“If you stay, you assume risks, with no guarantee that there will be another possibility of leaving and no prospect of American military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion,” he said.
Sullivan said he could not predict how limited or extensive a Russian military invasion of Ukraine would be. “There are very real possibilities that this will involve seizing a significant amount of territory in Ukraine and seizing major cities, including the capital,” he said.
Sullivan would not predict when a Russian military attack might occur.
“We can’t determine the day at this point, and we can’t determine the time,” he said. “But what we can say is that there is a credible prospect of Russian military action taking place even before the Olympics are over.” The games in Beijing are scheduled to end on Sunday, February 20.
Asked about past US intelligence estimates that were proven wrong, including in the run-up to the Iraq war, when Bush administration officials claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Sullivan said things were different this time.
“In the Iraq situation, intelligence was used and deployed from that same podium to start a war. We’re trying to stop a war, prevent a war, avert a war,” he said. .
Meanwhile, a defense official confirmed to NPR that the Department of Defense will send 3,000 additional US troops to Poland in the coming days. This is in addition to the roughly 3,000 US troops the administration is sending to Poland and Romania and the roughly 8,500 already on high alert to be deployed to Europe if needed. US forces in Poland are meant to assist Americans who have left Ukraine in anticipation of an invasion, and they would not play any combat role in Ukraine.