U.S. warns that Russia could attack Ukraine 'at very short notice' as troop buildup grows

·3 min read

Fearing a Russian invasion of Ukraine could be imminent, the United States launched a fresh effort to resolve the standoff on Wednesday even as Moscow continued to mass troops on its neighbor's doorstep.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Kyiv to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a hastily-arranged diplomatic mission that signaled the urgency of the crisis.

Blinken is also set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday, even after a flurry of negotiations last week produced no breakthrough and lowered hopes for de-escalation.

With Europe facing one of its greatest security crises since the Cold War, Washington’s warning that a Russian attack could come “at any point” was ringing through the winter air as Blinken arrived on the continent early Wednesday.

Image: Secretary of State of U.S. Antony Blinken visits Ukraine (Alex Brandon / Pool via Reuters)
Image: Secretary of State of U.S. Antony Blinken visits Ukraine (Alex Brandon / Pool via Reuters)

Speaking to diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, Blinken echoed those concerns as he warned that Moscow's troop buildup would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to launch an attack "on very short notice."

President Joe Biden's top diplomat added that he strongly hopes Russia can stick to a peaceful path, Reuters reported. The Russian buildup, he said, was taking place with “no provocation, no reason,” according to the agency.

In a later meeting with Zelenskyy, Blinken said that Ukraine faces an “unprecedented” threat. He reiterated Washington's commitment to the country's territorial integrity and repeated warnings that renewed Russian aggression would be met with “very severe consequences."

During his time in Kyiv, Blinken will also meet with the employees of the U.S. embassy and their families to discuss efforts “to plan for contingencies,” should Russia choose to escalate further, the State Department said.

On Tuesday White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that an “extremely dangerous situation” is building along the Ukrainian border. "We believe we’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine. I would say that’s more stark than we have been,” Psaki said during her daily press briefing.

Last week, the Biden administration said it had information that the Russian government is planning a “false-flag” operation to justify a fresh military incursion into its neighbor, after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 and backed an ongoing separatist war with Ukrainian forces in the country’s East.

The growing alarm comes after inconclusive talks between Moscow and the West following Russia's demands for security guarantees that the U.S. and its allies have consistently ruled out.

Russia amassed more than 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border in recent months, prompting Western fears that Moscow is planning to invade. The Kremlin has steadfastly denied any such plan.

Adding to those fears, Russian forces and equipment continued to arrive in Belarus on Tuesday for what Moscow and Minsk have said is a planned joint military exercise next month. The former Soviet state is a staunch Moscow ally and borders Ukraine to the north.

A senior administration official called the arrival of Russian troops and equipment in Belarus “neither an exercise nor normal troop movement," but "a show of strength" that could give a false pretext for a crisis.

"It’s a move that’s extremely dangerous,” the official said in a briefing ahead of Blinken's visit. “We are now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine.”

But Moscow remained defiant about the movements of its troops Wednesday, with the Russian embassy in Washington calling it a "sovereign right."

“Once again we emphasize: Russia is not going to attack anyone,” the embassy said in a Facebook post.

The U.S. has warned Russia of dire economic consequences should it invade, and has sought to rally allies throughout Europe to present a strong and united front.

After his meetings with Zelenskyy and other senior Ukrainian officials, Blinken will continue to Berlin for talks with German and other European allies on Thursday.