Ukraine crisis: Russia has in place 70% of military needed for full invasion – US officials | Ukraine

Russia has assembled at least 70% of the military firepower it intends to have in place by the middle of February to give President Vladimir Putin the option of launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, US officials have said.

On Saturday, officials warned that a full Russian invasion could lead to the quick capture of Kyiv and potentially result in as many as 50,000 civilians killed or wounded, according to the New York Times and Washington Post. A US official confirmed that estimate to the Associated Press but it is not clear how US agencies determined those numbers.

The grim assessment comes after British prime minister Boris Johnson agreed with French president Emmanuel Macron that the UK and its Nato allies would be united in their fight against Russian aggression “wherever and however it might occur”.

European leaders are due to travel to both Moscow and Kyiv in a bid to calm tensions.

Macron is expected to visit Moscow on Monday and Kyiv on Tuesday, while the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, will travel to Kyiv on 14 February and to Moscow the next day.

UK foreign secretary Liz Truss had been due to travel to Ukraine with the prime minister on Tuesday but had to drop out of the trip after testing positive for coronavirus. Truss will reportedly travel to Moscow soon.

US officials said that, as of Friday, the Russian army had put in place near Ukraine a total of 83 “battalion tactical groups”, each of which is roughly equivalent in size to an American battalion of between 750 and 1,000 soldiers. That is an increase from 60 battalion tactical groups in position just two weeks ago, they said.

Another 14 battalion tactical groups are on their way to the border area from other parts of Russia, the officials said. Two officials said the US assesses that Russia would want a total of between 110 and 130 battalion tactical groups for use in a full-scale invasion, but Putin could decide on a more limited incursion. Including support units, Russia might be aiming to have 150,000 troops in place for a full-scale invasion, one official said, adding that the ongoing buildup could reach that level in the next couple of weeks.

On Thursday, US officials claimed to have evidence of an elaborate plot by the Kremlin to make a “very graphic” fake video of a Ukrainian attack as a pretext for a military invasion. Downing Street said on Friday it has “high confidence” Russia is planning to fabricate a reason for attacking Ukraine.

The US officials, who discussed internal assessments of the Russian buildup on condition they not be identified, sketched out a series of indicators suggesting Putin intends an invasion in coming weeks, although the size and scale are unclear. They stressed that a diplomatic solution appears to remain possible.

Among those military indicators: an exercise of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces that usually is held in autumn was rescheduled for mid-February to March. That coincides with what US officials see as the most likely window for invasion. The officials made no suggestion that a prospective conflict would involve the use of nuclear weapons, but the Russian exercise – likely involving the test-launching of unarmed long-range missiles on Russian territory – could be used as a message aimed at deterring the west from intervention in Ukraine.

US officials have said in recent weeks that a Russian invasion could overwhelm Ukraine’s military relatively quickly, although Moscow might find it difficult to sustain an occupation and cope with a potential insurgency.

The ongoing Russian buildup comes as the Biden administration has been disclosing intelligence in hopes of pre-emptively countering Russian disinformation and blocking Putin’s plans to create a pretext for an invasion. But it has come under criticism for not providing evidence to back up many of its claims.

Army officials on Saturday announced that Major General Christopher Donahue, the commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, arrived in Poland. About other 1,700 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne are deploying to Poland from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and 300 soldiers are deploying from Bragg to Germany. In addition, 1,000 Germany-based soldiers are shifting to Romania.

Captain Matt Visser, spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps, which includes the 82nd division, said: “Our corps’ presence serves to bolster existing US forces in Europe and demonstrates our commitment to our Nato allies and partners.”

The corps was made up of “combat capable forces who stand ready to enhance the alliance’s ability to deter and defeat Russian aggression”, the US statement added.

Washington said last week it would send about 3,000 additional troops to eastern Europe to defend Nato members against any “aggression”.

With growing nervousness in Eastern Europe over Russia’s buildup, much attention is focused on its placement of thousands of troops in Belarus, which shares a border not only with Ukraine but also with three Nato nations: Poland, Lithuania and Latvia. The Biden administration may soon shift some more troops within Europe to allied nations on Nato’s eastern flank, a US official said on Saturday without specifying which nations.

Defense secretary Lloyd Austin said last week that Putin could use any portion of the force he has assembled along Ukraine’s borders to seize Ukrainian cities and “significant territories” or to carry out “coercive acts or provocative political acts” such as the recognition of breakaway territories inside Ukraine.

Depending on Putin’s ultimate objective, the Russian forces could attack Kyiv directly by moving south from current positions in southern Belarus. He might also send forces across the Russian border into eastern and southern Ukraine if his intent is to fracture and destroy a large portion of the Ukrainian army, the officials said.

On the lower end of the scale of military action, Putin might order sabotage, cyberattacks and other destabilizing actions inside Ukraine with the goal of removing the current government in Kyiv, officials have said.

With Associated Press

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