MOSCOW: War clouds are hovering over the Russian region as Moscow braces up to invade Ukraine.
Russia is building up troops near the Ukraine border waiting for directions to invade the neighboring country.
Washington fears the invasion might happen before the end of this month’s Winter Olympics. The US has already advised its citizens to leave Ukraine at the earliest.
Moscow, for its part, stiffened its truculent response towards Western diplomacy, saying answers sent this week by the EU and Nato to its security demands showed “disrespect”.
Commercial satellite images published by a private US company showed new Russian military deployments at several locations near Ukraine.
In his starkest warning yet to Americans in Ukraine to get out now, President Joe Biden said he would not send troops to rescue US citizens in the event of a Russian assault.
“Things could go crazy quickly,” Biden told NBC News.
Biden was, meanwhile, due to hold a phone call to discuss the crisis with the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Poland, and Romania, as well as heads of Nato and the EU.
Warns invasion could come at any time
Biden met his national security advisers in the White House Situation Room overnight, a source familiar with the meeting said. US officials believed the crisis could be reaching a critical point, with rhetoric from Moscow hardening, six Russian warships reaching the Black Sea, and more Russian military equipment arriving in Belarus, the source said.
“We’re in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The Beijing Games end on Feb 20.
“Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Blinken added.
Russia’s Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov and US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley held phone talks on Friday, Interfax news agency reported, citing a Russian defence ministry statement. They discussed international security, the agency added without giving details.
With alarm spreading, Japan and the Netherlands also told their citizens on Friday to leave Ukraine immediately. The Dutch diplomatic mission would be pulled from Kyiv and moved far from the Russian frontier to Lviv in Ukraine’s west.
Russia has already massed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine, and this week launched joint military exercises in neighbouring Belarus and naval drills in the Black Sea.
Moscow denies planning to invade Ukraine, but says it could take unspecified “military-technical” action unless a series of demands are met, including promises from Nato never to admit Ukraine and to withdraw forces from Eastern Europe.
The West has said those main demands are non-starters. The EU and Nato alliance delivered responses this week on behalf of their member states, which they said had agreed to speak as one.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday it wanted individual answers from each country, and called the collective response insulting: “Such a step cannot be seen as anything other than a sign of diplomatic impoliteness and disrespect for our request.”
Several Western countries launched diplomatic pushes this week to persuade Russia to back down, but Moscow brushed them off, yielding no concessions to French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited on Monday, and openly mocking British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss when she came on Thursday.
Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia would soon respond to the Nato and EU letters soon.