US: More than 130,000 Russian troops are now in Ukraine

The Biden administration is becoming more vocal about concerns that Russia may stage an incident that will create an excuse for an invasion.

U.S. and European intelligence findings in recent days have sparked worries that Russia may try to target a scheduled Ukrainian military exercise slated for Tuesday in eastern Ukraine to launch such a “false-flag operation,” according to two people familiar with the matter. Two people familiar with the matter spoke only on condition that they not be identified because it was illegal to discuss publicly.

American intelligence officers believe that Russia may have considered targeting the exercise as one option for an eventual false flag operation. White House officials have stressed that they don’t know if Vladimir Putin is preparing to invade. Invasion of Ukraine’s east, north and south by Russian forces is what the Kremlin calls military drills.

A U.S. official updated the Biden administration’s estimate for how many Russian forces are now staged near Ukraine’s borders to more than 130,000, up from the more than 100,000 the U.S. has cited publicly in previous weeks. To discuss the conclusions of the administration, this official spoke under anonymity.

Zelenskyy repeatedly dismissed the U.S. warnings and questioned the more adamant statements by U.S. officials that Russia might be planning an invasion as early as next week. He stated that he understood all risks and was aware of the dangers. “If you, or anyone else, has additional information regarding a 100% Russian invasion starting on the 16th, please forward that information to us.”

But while Zelenskyy has urged against panic that he fears could undermine Ukraine’s economy, he and his civilian and military leaders also are preparing defenses, soliciting and receiving a flow of arms from the U.S. and other NATO members. A military cargo plane carrying anti-aircraft missiles from the U.S. and ammunition from NATO member Lithuania arrived in Ukraine Sunday to strengthen its defenses against an attack by aircraft.

Zelenskyy donned military olive drab to a drill this weekend with helicopters and tanks near Ukraine’s border. Some in Kalanchak expressed doubt that Putin would send troops into their country.

“I don’t believe Russia will attack us,” said resident Boris Cherepenko. He said that he had friends in Sakhalin and Krasnodar, while naming Russian regions. “I don’t believe it Most people in Kyiv expressed doubts about whether or not any Russian moves would have an economic, military, or even political impact. Alona Buznitskaya was one of those who spoke on the streets in Kyiv, holding signs that said, “I Love Ukraine,” and she seemed calm.

” You should be prepared for anything, so you won’t have to worry about anything.” The U.S. hasn’t made any public information about the specific evidence that underlies its warnings regarding Russian timing or planning.

“We’re not going to give Russia the opportunity to conduct a surprise here, to spring something on Ukraine or the world,” Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday, about the U.S. warnings.

” We will make it clear to the world that what we see is as clearly and transparently as possible,” he stated. The Russians deployed special forces and supplies, including air, missile, naval, and aircraft fighters, to support an invasion. Russia has moved six amphibious assault vessels into the Black Sea this week to increase its ability to land along the coast.

Putin denied any intent to attack Ukraine. Russia demands that NATO be kept out of former Soviet states. Russia also demands that NATO refrains from placing weapons close to its borders and reduce the number of alliance troops from Eastern Europe. These requests are flatly denied by NATO.

Biden and Putin spoke for more than an hour Saturday, but the White House offered no suggestion that the call diminished the threat of an imminent war in Europe.

Reflecting the West’s concerns, Dutch airline KLM has canceled flights to Ukraine until further notice, the company said. SkyUp, a Ukrainian charter airline, stated Sunday that its flight from Madeira (Portugal) to Kyiv had been diverted to the capital of Moldova.

And Ukraine’s air traffic safety agency Ukraerorukh declared the Black Sea airspace a “zone in potential danger”. They recommended that aircraft avoid the area Feb. 14-19. The Putin-Biden call, which followed a conversation between Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron earlier that day, occurred at a crucial moment in what is now the most serious security crisis between Russia’s and the West since World War II. Officials in the United States believe that they only have a few days left to stop an attack on Ukraine and massive bloodshed.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will fly to Kyiv on Monday to meet with Zelenskyy and Moscow on Tuesday to meet with Putin. While the U.S., NATO, and others have stated that they don’t intend to send troops into Ukraine in order to defeat Russia, an invasion or resulting sanctions by the U.S.

, German Chancellor will fly to Kyiv on Monday to meet with Zelenskyy and Moscow to meet Putin.

The United States pulled most of their staff out from Kyiv’s embassy and asked all Americans to immediately leave Ukraine. Britain joined the other European countries in telling their citizens to flee.

Biden, as an alligator to NATO’s Eastern flank, has increased the U.S. military presence within Europe. The 3,000 additional soldiers ordered to Poland come on top of 1,700 who are on their way there. The U.S. Army also is shifting 1,000 soldiers from Germany to Romania, which like Poland shares a border with Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a bitter conflict since 2014, when Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly leader was driven from office by a popular uprising. Moscow responded by annexing the Crimean Peninsula and then backing a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed over 14,000 people.

A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped halt large-scale battles, but regular skirmishes have continued, and efforts to reach a political settlement have stalled.

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Heintz reported from Moscow. Nomaan Merchant, Yuras Karmanau, Nebi Qena and Nebi Qena, Kyiv, Ukraine and Oleksandr Statashevsky, Kalanchak (Ukraine), contributed.

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