Russia now has enough troops in place to invade Ukraine, warns US

Russia has massed enough troops near Ukraine to launch a major invasion, Washington said on Friday, as it urged all US citizens to leave the country within 48 hours after Moscow further toughened its response to the western diplomacy.

A Russian attack could begin any day and would likely begin with an air assault, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said.

He said US intelligence believed a quick assault on Kiev was also a possibility and that Russian President Vladimir Putin could order an invasion before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on February 20.

WATCH | US President Joe Biden on the danger facing Americans in Ukraine:

Biden warns Putin against US citizens in Ukraine

In an interview with NBC News, US President Joe Biden said he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin not to do anything that would “negatively impact” US citizens if Russia invaded Ukraine. 1:11

It was still unclear whether Putin had given the order definitively, Sullivan said during a press briefing.

Putin and US President Joe Biden will speak by phone on Saturday, according to a White House official and Russian news agency RIA. Russian news agency TASS said Putin would meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on the same day.

Four US officials told Reuters on Friday that Washington would send 3,000 more troops to Poland in the coming days to try to reassure NATO allies. They are in addition to the 8,500 already on alert for deployment in Europe if necessary.

Earlier, commercial satellite images from a US firm showed new Russian military deployments at several sites near the border.

After telling NBC News that things in Ukraine “could get crazy fast,” Biden held a phone call about the crisis with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Poland and Romania, as well as the heads of NATO and the EU.

WATCH | Ukrainians are avoiding panic over the prospect of war with Russia:

Growing fear of Russian military drills is cover for possible invasion of Ukraine

Russia has launched huge joint military exercises with Belarus and there are growing fears that they could be used as a cover to escalate tensions with Ukraine or launch a possible attack. 2:07

The leaders expressed concern over Russia’s military buildup, expressed a desire for a diplomatic solution and agreed to make coordinated efforts to deter Russian aggression, including being prepared to impose “massive consequences and significant economic costs” to Moscow if it chose the escalating military, the White House said after the call.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Western countries, with the help of the media, were spreading false information in an attempt to distract from their own aggressive actions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has joined a handful of other nations in urging their citizens to leave Ukraine, told the appeal hosted by Biden that he fears for the security of Europe.

US soldiers cast shadows as they march during the visit of NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base near the Black Sea port city of Constanta in eastern Romania , to Fridya. (Andrea Alexandru/Associated Press)

He stressed the need “for a hefty package of ready-made economic sanctions, should Russia take the devastating and destructive step of invading Ukraine,” his office said.

Japan, Latvia, Norway and the Netherlands have also told their citizens to leave Ukraine immediately. Israel said it was evacuating relatives of embassy staff.

Moscow, meanwhile, said responses sent this week by the EU and NATO to its security demands showed a “lack of respect”.

Biden met with his national security advisers overnight, a source familiar with the meeting said. US officials believed the crisis could reach a crisis point, with tougher rhetoric from Moscow, six Russian warships reaching the Black Sea and more Russian military hardware arriving in Belarus, the source said.

“We are in a window where an invasion could begin at any time – and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

A Ukrainian serviceman flashes the V-for-victory sign while unpacking military aid delivered as part of United States Security Assistance to Ukraine, at Boryspil Airport, outside Kiev, Ukraine on Friday. (Efrem Lukatsky/Associated Press)

“We continue to see very worrying signs of Russian escalation, including the arrival of new forces on the Ukrainian border,” Blinken said.

Moscow denies invasion plans

Russia has already massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine and this week launched joint military drills in neighboring Belarus and naval drills in the Black Sea.

A member of the Ukrainian Armed Forces was seen Thursday near the town of Avdiivka, Ukraine. (Oleksandr Klymenko/Reuters)

Moscow denies plans to invade Ukraine, but says it could take unspecified ‘military-technical’ action unless a series of demands are met, including NATO promises not to never admit Ukraine and withdraw its forces from Eastern Europe.

The West said these major demands are not going away. The EU and NATO alliance provided answers this week on behalf of their member states.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said it wanted individual responses from each country and called the collective response a “sign of diplomatic rudeness and disrespect”.

Several Western countries launched diplomatic pressure this week to persuade Russia to back down, but Moscow rebuffed them, making no concessions to French President Emmanuel Macron, who surrendered on Monday, and openly mocking the British business secretary foreign Liz Truss when she came on Thursday.

Quadripartite talks in Berlin between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France on Thursday also failed to yield any progress.

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