WASHINGTON – President Biden said on Friday that the United States has intelligence indicating that Russian President V. Putin has made the final decision to reject diplomatic actions and aggression against Ukraine, which Biden said. would be a “catastrophic and needless war of choice” in Eastern Europe.
Speaking from the Roosevelt Room in the White House, Mr. Biden said “we have reason to believe that Russian forces are planning and intending to attack Ukraine in the next week, in the coming days,” adding that ” We believe they will target the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people.”
Asked if he thought Putin was still wavering about whether to invade, Mr Biden said: “I believe he’s made the decision.” He later added that his impression of Mr. Putin’s intentions was based on “a substantial intelligence capacity.”
However, Mr. Biden still begged Russia to “choose diplomacy”.
“It’s not too late to de-escalate and get back to the negotiating table,” Biden said, referring to the talks scheduled between Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and the Russian Foreign Minister on Thursday. “If Russia takes military action before that date, it’s clear they’ve closed the door to diplomacy.”
In the hours before Mr. Biden’s late-afternoon speech, Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine called for mass evacuations in two contested regions of the country, claiming, with little evidence, that the Ukrainian military is about to launch a large-scale attack there, an assertion that appears to be aimed at provoking Russian military intervention.
The ominous message about the rebels in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions has been loudly repeated by Moscow, raising fears that Russia is setting the stage for an imminent invasion that could spark conflict. the largest in Europe for decades.
The call for the evacuation of the Russian-backed separatists came as they blamed Ukraine for a series of provocations, including shelling along the front line between Ukraine and separatists, and an explosion. involved an empty car that pro-Moscow news agencies said belonged to the head of the region’s security services.
Mr. Biden, who just ended a video call with dozens of Western leaders, dismissed claims as lies that Mr. Putin intended to exaggerate the situation and use the pretext of war – something the United States and other countries have done. Other European leaders suffer. been warned for weeks.
He called the bombing of a Ukrainian kindergarten an act of provocation backed by Russia. And he pointed to accusations by Russian separatists that Ukraine was planning a major attack as proof of Russia’s efforts to justify military action with disinformation. .
“There is simply no evidence for these claims, and it defies basic logic to believe that the Ukrainians would choose this moment, with more than 150,000 troops arrayed on their borders,” Biden said. to escalate a year-long conflict.
The president’s comments are the clearest indication yet of how close the world can be to Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II. He specifically predicted the timeframe and parameters of the invasion, despite the risks that he could be proven wrong.
“We are calling out the Russian plans loudly and over and over again,” Biden said. “Not because we want a conflict, but because we are doing everything in our power to eliminate any excuses that Russia might come up with to justify invading Ukraine and prevent them from moving. moved on”.
The president did not say how the administration learned of Putin’s decision, but two US officials said the president’s assessment was based in part on new intelligence that shows nearly half of the 150,000 Russian forces had moved out of array and into battle formation and was able to launch a full-blown invasion within days.
This force includes 120 to 125 tactical battalions, up from the mid-1980s earlier this month. And some of the forces are Russian reservists who would form the occupation force after an invasion, officials said. The officials requested anonymity to discuss the government’s assessments.
Mr. Biden vowed that the United States and its allies were united behind the imposition of severe economic sanctions if Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border. He said he also held a call with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who expressed unified support for the administration during a visit to Munich to attend a security conference.
In Ukraine, the head of the country’s defense ministry said claims of an imminent attack by the country’s army were completely untrue and aimed at inflaming tensions. However, the ministry issued a stark warning to residents of the disputed areas “not to leave their homes and not to use public transport”. It cited “information that Russian special services exploited some of the social infrastructure in Donetsk,” with the aim of “destabilizing the situation” there.
The warning reflects how Russia appears to be pulling out all the stops to pressure Ukraine not to send troops across the border.
Fears of a flare-up of conflict have grown as US officials say as many as 190,000 troops and affiliated militias are stationed in and near Ukraine, a number that includes separatists. The assessment was made in a statement by the US mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which it called “the most significant military mobilization in Europe since the end of World War II”. second world”.
However, consistent with Russia’s conflicting messaging throughout the crisis, Putin on Friday said he was prepared for further diplomacy. The announcement of the meeting between Mr. Blinken and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, calmed volatile markets and suggested that there was still hope for the crisis to be resolved without war.
However, Putin stressed that Russia will continue to insist on far-reaching demands for “security guarantees” in Eastern Europe that the West has rejected – such as the cessation of NATO expansion to the east and the withdrawal of military forces. alliance’s volume from the region. .
“We are ready to continue negotiations on condition that all questions are considered together, not separately from the main Russian proposals,” Putin told a news conference with his close ally, Russia. Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, who visited Moscow.
Friday’s drumbeat of alarm from the separatists over Ukraine’s provocations matches the way Western officials have warned that a “false flag” incident could be used to start a military conflict. the.
In urging people in disputed areas to evacuate to Russia, Denis Pushilin, the pro-Moscow leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, offered a clear version of what could happen with pretexts. considered provocations by Ukraine.
Understanding the escalating tension in Ukraine
“Very soon, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky will order the army to launch an offensive, carrying out a plan to invade the territory of the people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk,” he said in a live video. online, gave no evidence.
Kyiv firmly denies Moscow’s accusations. And in remarks Friday, Mr. Biden said there was “no evidence” behind them.
Although Moscow insists it has no plans for an invasion, it has vowed to deliver “a tough response” if the United States and its NATO partners do not return to their presence. in Eastern Europe.
In a show of strength, Russia plans major exercises this weekend that will include ballistic and cruise missile launches, according to Interfax news agency.
Russia’s exercises will test the country’s strategic nuclear forces, including Land-based launchers, bombers and warships are used to deliver nuclear weapons. They will include the Black Sea Fleet, which has participated in large-scale exercises in the area bordering Ukraine. Putin will preside over them from a “situational center”, the Kremlin said.
The Defense Ministry said the drills were planned in advance and Dmitri S. Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, denied that they were intended to increase tensions with the West. But they will come at a crucial moment in the game against Ukraine.
Near the front in Ukraine, one could hear explosions from ammunition fired by Ukrainian troops and fire from pro-Russian separatists.
A local branch of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
In a speech to Ukraine’s parliament, Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov urged Ukrainians living in separatist-held territory not to believe Russian propaganda that the Ukrainian government would attack. surname.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Ukraine is not your enemy.”
An estimated 3.5 million people live in the two breakaway regions and self-proclaimed republics, and since the war began there, Russia has granted citizenship to more than 700,000 people living in the Donbas region . In his message on Ukraine, Putin warned about the plight of virtuous Russians in the country, saying events in eastern Ukraine were “like genocide”.
Highlighting the growing risk of military conflict, Britain announced Friday evening that it was following the direction of the United States in evacuating its embassy from Kyiv to the western city of Lviv.
Fearing that Russian troops in Belarus could invade Ukraine from the northern border with Belarus, just 140 kilometers from the capital, the Ukrainian government ordered the closure of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site to tourists. .
Valerie Hopkins and Marc Santora reported from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Ivan Nechepurenko from Moscow. Eric Schmitt Contribution report from Washington.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/18/us/politics/biden-ukraine-russia.html Biden says Putin chose ‘catastrophic’ war for diplomacy