Live Updates: U.S. Says Russia Could Invade Ukraine at Any Time

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Russia Could Invade Ukraine at Any Time, U.S. Says

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, warned that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could launch a major assault on Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, but said that Mr. Putin had not reached a final decision yet.

“We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it. I will not comment on the details of our intelligence information, but I do want to be clear: It could begin during the Olympics. We encourage all American citizens who remain in Ukraine to depart immediately. We want to be crystal clear on this point. Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible and in any event, in the next 24 to 48 hours. We obviously cannot predict the future. We don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but the risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that this is what prudence demands. If you stay, you are assuming risk with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave, and there — no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion.” Reporter: “Does the United States believe that the president — pardon me — that President Putin has made a decision because PBS NewsHour just reported a little bit ago that the United States does believe that Putin has made a decision, and has also communicated that decision to the Russian military. Is that accurate?” “The report that you just referenced, which I have not seen yet, it does not accurately capture what the U.S. government’s view is today. Our view is that we do not believe he has made any kind of final decision or we don’t know that he has made any final decision, and we have not communicated that to anybody.”

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Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, warned that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could launch a major assault on Ukraine before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, but said that Mr. Putin had not reached a final decision yet.CreditCredit…Maxar Technologies., via Reuters

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration warned on Friday that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could mount a major assault on Ukraine at any time, having built up formidable land, sea and air forces on three sides of its smaller neighbor.

U.S. intelligence officials had initially thought Mr. Putin was prepared to wait until the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing before possibly ordering an offensive, to avoid antagonizing President Xi Jinping of China, a critical ally. In recent days, they say, the timeline began moving up, an acceleration that Biden administration officials began publicly acknowledging on Friday.

“We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, told reporters on Friday, adding that an invasion could begin “during the Olympics,” which are scheduled to end on Feb. 20, and warned that all Americans should leave Ukraine in the next 24 to 48 hours.

U.S. officials still do not know whether Mr. Putin has decided to invade, Mr. Sullivan insisted. “We are ready either way,” he said. “Whatever happens next, the West is more united than it has been in years.”

The United States has picked up intelligence that Russia is discussing next Wednesday as the target date for the start of military action, officials said, acknowledging the possibility that mentioning a particular date could be part of a Russian disinformation effort. The combination of the Russian troop movements and the new information about a possible date helped to trigger the flurry of diplomatic activity and public warnings by the NATO allies on Friday.

Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, told reporters at a news conference in Melbourne that an “invasion could begin at any time. And, to be clear, that includes during the Olympics.” Mr. Blinken added that U.S. officials “continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border.”

The United States and many other countries — including, recently, Britain, Japan, Norway, Latvia and Denmark — have issued a series of increasingly urgent calls for their citizens to leave Ukraine. The United States has ruled out sending troops to defend Ukraine, but has increased deployments to NATO member countries in Eastern Europe, and on Friday the Pentagon ordered 3,000 more soldiers to Poland.

“A coordinated information attack is being conducted against Moscow,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement, along with a list of previous Western warnings of a possible imminent invasion. That messaging, it said, is “aimed at undermining and discrediting Russia’s fair demands for security guarantees, as well as at justifying Western geopolitical aspirations and military absorption of Ukraine’s territory.”

Mr. Sullivan said, “Russia could choose in very short order to commence a major military action against Ukraine,” but added that officials could not be sure exactly when, or if, Mr. Putin may decide to invade. As he spoke, Mr. Biden was preparing to depart for Camp David for the weekend — the whir of Marine One’s blades could be heard in the White House briefing room.

“The risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that this is what prudence demands,” Mr. Sullivan said. “We believe he very well may give the final go order,” he added, “but we are not standing here before you today saying the order has been given.”

On Thursday evening, President Biden told Lester Holt of NBC News that Americans should leave Ukraine immediately, following a State Department advisory that “military action may commence at any time and without warning,” its starkest language yet. And the president said that in the event of all-out war, the United States would not send troops to rescue Americans and risk a clash with Russia.

“We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world,” Mr. Biden said. “This is a very different situation, and things could go crazy quickly.”

The Kremlin said that Mr. Putin and Mr. Biden would speak by phone on Saturday, at the White House’s request, and that Mr. Putin would also speak again with President Emmanuel Macron of France.

On Friday, Mr. Biden met by phone with other trans-Atlantic leaders in a call that included Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany; Prime Ministers Boris Johnson of Britain, Mario Draghi of Italy and Justin Trudeau of Canada; and Presidents Macron, Andrzej Duda of Poland, Klaus Iohannis of Romania, Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission and Charles Michel of the European Council; and the NATO secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.

The leaders met for about 80 minutes, in a call that was initially supposed to be centered around “diplomacy and deterrence,” the White House said.

The call came as Russia builds up its forces around Ukraine — in Belarus, western Russia and Crimea, the territory Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 — in what U.S. and NATO leaders have said appears to be preparation for an invasion.

Ukraine said on Friday that Russian-backed separatists were holding military exercises in the slice of eastern Ukraine they control, at the same time that Russia holds exercises near Ukraine.

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