Fears of Ukraine invasion rise as top Russian commanders fly to Belarus for massive joint military exercise


The White House said US troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, which began arriving in Poland last week, were not expected to enter Ukraine. They will handle logistics and other support on the Polish side of the border and assist American citizens who have reached Poland.

“To be clear, we do not anticipate a mass evacuation of American citizens from Ukraine,” said a White House official, who like others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations of administration. “President Biden has been clear that we think Americans in Ukraine would do well to leave Ukraine.”

Officials fear that if hostilities break out between Russia and Ukraine, Americans in Ukraine will have limited options to exit.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby raised the possibility of US soldiers setting up shelters or tents in Poland for evacuees, but said he did not envision an operation in which the military would directly help. to keep civilians out of harm’s way.

Kirby said the State Department had been “extremely consistent and clear about warning Americans not to travel to Ukraine.” Americans still there have the opportunity to “do the right thing – while it’s time to do it,” he said.

Russia’s top military commanders traveled to neighboring Belarus on Wednesday for the exercise. It will involve thousands of Russian soldiers and sophisticated weapons systems. Russia has announced the deployment of S-400 surface-to-air missiles, Pantsir air defense systems and Su-35 fighter jets to Belarus for the exercise. Russian and Belarusian officials said Russian troops would return to their base after the maneuvers.

US and European officials fear the drill could put Russian forces in position for a multi-pronged invasion of Ukraine, with troops invading Belarus to the north and Russia to the east.

Ukrainian troops will also begin exercises on Thursday using armed drones and anti-tank weapons supplied by the United States and other NATO members. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said the drills, scheduled until Feb. 20, are a response to Russian drills near the border.

Reznikov said Russia had amassed 140,000 troops in the region. US officials have previously said the number could reach 175,000 and that Russia is building the forces needed for a full-scale invasion.

Shuttle diplomacy by top US and European officials, including French President Emmanuel Macron’s trips to Moscow and Kiev this week, has produced no breakthrough.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that President Biden had spoken to Macron following his meetings and that she expected Biden to speak with other European leaders this week. .

She said Russia had not changed its behavior and was taking “escalation” measures.

In a letter to Biden on Wednesday, a bipartisan group of senators urged the administration to share more intelligence with Ukraine. “Russia is the aggressor, and we must arm Ukraine with critical information needed to defend their country,” the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee wrote.

Privately, Ukrainian officials have complained that the United States appears to have relevant intelligence that has not been shared with them about Russian planning. An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the intelligence provided by US officials was of limited value.

But Biden administration officials say they have declassified and made public an extraordinary amount of intelligence, including information gleaned from satellite images and other sources. He revealed the locations and accumulations of Russian troops; the alleged Kremlin plot to replace the Kiev government with Moscow-aligned people; and a plot to concoct a pretext for invasion by staging and filming a fake Ukrainian attack on Russia or Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

US and UK officials have privately expressed frustration that Zelensky and his entourage are downplaying the Russian threat. But the Ukrainian leader and his advisers stressed that they did not want to panic Ukrainian citizens and trigger a financial crisis. They continue to push for diplomatic solutions to the crisis.

Russian officials continue to blame the United States and NATO for stoking tensions.

Russia and Belarus have faced unprecedented threats, the nature and, perhaps, the concentration of which are, unfortunately, much greater and much more dangerous than before,” the spokesperson told reporters. word of the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov.

Satellite images released on February 6 and other intelligence indicated that Russia had amassed more than 100,000 troops and equipment on the border with Ukraine. (Reuters)

Moscow demands a radical rewrite of Europe’s post-Cold War security order, including an end to NATO expansion and the withdrawal of alliance forces and troops from Eastern Europe Eastern and Baltic States.

Washington and NATO have rejected those demands, offering limited reciprocal measures on arms control and military exercises in written submissions to the Kremlin. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Wednesday that Russia was still considering its response to the proposals and that a final decision would be made by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ryabkov said “everything else depends” on the willingness of the United States and NATO to negotiate seriously on Russia’s demands. But so far, he said, the US proposal to Russia contained “unacceptable statements”, while the NATO document offered “profanity and provocative language”.

NATO diplomats have said they fear Putin’s demands are so broad that there is little or no room for a compromise that all parties find acceptable.

Pannett reported from Sydney and Dixon reported from Moscow. Ashley Parker, Michael Birnbaum and Amy B Wang in Washington contributed to this report.

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