UNITED STATES/RUSSIA: While President Biden continued to advocate for a diplomatic solution on Friday, he stated that he believed President Vladimir V. Putin. Russia’s Putin had taken the final decision to invade within a week, with Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, as his target.
“As of now,” Biden said, “I’m convinced he’s made the decision. We have reason to believe that.”
“We have reason to believe that.” He reiterated that the attack could take place in the “coming days.”
The president’s remarks at the White House came on the heels of a day of rising violence that saw a humanitarian convoy shelled and a car bombing in the eastern city of Donetsk.
Pro-Russian rebels began evacuating residents from the fighting zone after making an announcement that appeared to be part of Moscow’s efforts to portray Ukraine as the aggressor.
Russia and Ukraine conflict
According to American sources, up to 190,000 Russian troops and militiamen were stationed near the borders and in separatist-held eastern territories.
Separatist leaders in the east called for mass evacuations, claiming that Ukraine’s military was planning a large-scale attack — an allegation that Mr. Biden dismissed as a lie designed to give Russia a pretext to invade.
Meanwhile, the Kremlin announced enormous nuclear drills to show off its military might, and Putin promised to protect Russia’s national interests from what he sees as Western threats.
Biden reaffirmed his threat of crippling economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia if it invades, and urged Putin to reconsider.
He claimed that the United States and its Western allies were more united than ever in their determination to ensure that Russia paid a high price for any invasion.
A US defense official said that an estimated 40% to 50% of ground forces deployed near the Ukrainian border have moved into attack positions closer to the border, indicating that the Russians are preparing for a major military push.
Other officials have said that this shift has been going on for about a week and does not necessarily mean that Putin has decided to launch an invasion.
The defense official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal military assessments in the United States.
According to the official, the number of Russian ground units known as battalion tactical groups in the border area has increased to 125, up from 83 two weeks ago. Each group has between 750 and 1,000 soldiers.
Communication channels remain open: The defense chiefs of the United States and Russia met on Friday. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has agreed to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov next week.
Immediate concerns centered on eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting pro-Russian insurgents since 2014, in a conflict that has killed over 14,000 people. With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops stationed along Ukraine’s borders, the long-simmering separatist conflict could serve as the catalyst for a larger offensive.
Fears of such an escalation grew stronger in the aftermath of Friday’s violence. In the rebel-held city of Donetsk, a car was hit by a bomb outside the main government building.
There were no reports of casualties, and there was no independent confirmation of the circumstances surrounding the explosion. Shelling and shooting are common along the front line between Ukrainian forces and the insurgents, but targeted violence is uncommon in rebel-held cities.
Two explosions shook the rebel-controlled city of Luhansk early Saturday, adding to the tensions. One of the blasts, according to the Luhansk Information Center, was in a natural gas main, and the other, according to witnesses, was at a vehicle service station.
There was no word on injuries or a cause as of yet. Officials in Luhansk blamed a gas main explosion earlier this week on sabotage.
On Friday, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported more than 600 explosions in Ukraine’s war-torn east.
Separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions of Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas, announced that civilians would be evacuated to Russia.
Denis Pushilin, the leader of the Donetsk insurgency, stated that women, children, and the elderly would be the first to leave and that Russia has prepared facilities for them. Pushilin claimed in a video statement that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was planning an offensive in the region.
Authorities in the United States have claimed that the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign may include staged, pre-recorded videos.
Authorities began removing children from a Donetsk orphanage, and other residents boarded buses bound for Russia. As more people prepared to leave on their own, long lines formed at gas stations.
Putin directed the government to pay each evacuee 10,000 rubles (about $130), which is roughly half of the average monthly salary in the war-torn Donbas region.
According to the region’s authorities, more than 1,100 residents of the rebel-controlled areas had arrived in the neighboring Russian region of Rostov by early Saturday, with thousands more expected. Separatist leaders have stated that they intend to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people.
The explosions and announced evacuations corresponded to US warnings about so-called false-flag attacks that Russia could use to justify an invasion.
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