US Officials Say Russia Could Invade Ukraine in Days Despite Moscow Denial

Two U.S. officials, familiar with U.S. intelligence, confirmed to Newsweek that Russia could stage an invasion of Ukraine within days despite repeated denials by Moscow of any plans to stage imminent military operations against the neighboring country.

But a consensus continued to elude the U.S. intelligence community as to whether Russian President Vladimir Putin would actually go through with such an operation, as a third U.S. official cast some doubt on the Biden administration's assessment.

"There is no pragmatic reason for the Russians to invade on a mass scale," the U.S. intelligence official said. "Right now Moscow continues to show force and test the international response."

"Moscow needs to understand and define the reactions of Western military forces (i.e. shifting troops to Germany and Poland)," the intelligence official added, "and see what punitive economic consequences the Kremlin might face (i.e. Nord Stream 2)."

In the latest warning yet of what the U.S. has said could be potentially imminent military action, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan called for U.S. citizens to leave the country within 24-48 hours, echoing similar warnings by President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

"We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it," Sullivan said.

He would not comment on the details of the intelligence and did not further elaborate on the assessment, but said that such an attack "could begin during the Olympics, despite a lot of speculation that it would only happen after."

A number of other U.S. allies, including Latvia, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the United Kingdom, have also begun to evacuate embassy personnel and call for their nationals to leave. A report in the state-run Tass Russian News Agency said Moscow's embassy in Kyiv was also looking into recalling nonessential staff home.

One former U.S. intelligence analyst said that the Biden administration's decision to issue such stark warnings may be rooted more in a failure of diplomacy than any signs of actual military activity.

"At this point, a political red line appears to have been crossed and NATO and the U.S. have to treat this as if an invasion imminent," the former intelligence analyst told Newsweek.

Ukraine, tanks, Kharkiv, amid, Russia, tensions
Ukrainian Military Forces servicemen of the 92nd mechanized brigade use tanks, self-propelled guns and other armoured vehicles to conduct live-fire exercises near the town of Chuguev, Kharkiv region on February 10. SERGEY BOBOK/AFP/Getty Images

Another former intelligence official, Douglas Wise, who served in the CIA as a member of the Senior Intelligence Service and was deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, also pointed to the broader geopolitics surrounding the situation, and doubts as to whether the Kremlin sought an all-out effort to occupy Ukraine.

"As soon as he knows he can get the concessions he wants, he'll not invade," Wise told Newsweek. "He's got a large set of asymmetric tools to run through first and at a lower cost. Would he take a small portion of Ukraine? Yes, but not a full-scale invasion."

But Sullivan outlined the possibility for a comprehensive Russian attack involving airstrikes and missile attacks followed by a ground invasion, all of which he warned could result in significant civilian casualties. Sullivan declined to speak to Russia's readiness for a "full-scale invasion" during Friday's press conference but said "that Russia has all the forces it needed to conduct a major military operation."

Last week, U.S. officials cited intelligence claiming Moscow may stage a "false flag" attack against Russian-speakers in Ukraine, where Russians are the largest ethnic minority, as a pretext to attack. Russian ambassador to the U.S. Anatoly Antonov later told Newsweek this was "part of the information war against Russia."

"Washington has been stirring up the whole world for several months with statements that Ukraine is about to become a victim of the 'Russian aggression,'" Antonov said at the time. "However, things did not work out as there is no attack. Apparently, that was the reason why 'leaks' of some intelligence data with the blasphemous and unfounded accusations you mentioned were used to gain some kind of credibility."

And as Russian officials have continued to dismiss any plans to attack Ukraine, while at the same Moscow has amassed troops along the western border, where pro-Russia separatists have already been engaged in an eight-year war with Ukrainian troops. To this point, Antonov issued a direct statement to Newsweek's audience.

"With all responsibility, I want to assure the readers of Newsweek that Russia is not going to attack anyone," Antonov said. "We need neighborly relations with the fraternal Ukrainian people."

At the same time, the Kremlin has demanded that Ukraine not be allowed into the NATO alliance that has expanded eastward toward Russia's borders since the fall of the Soviet Union three decades ago, and for security guarantees to restrict the Western bloc's military activities in the region.

But in the absence of a clear resolution at present, Georgi Asatryan, an expert for the Russian International Affairs Council who serves as an associate professor at Moscow State University and the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics, told Newsweek that, "evidently, the real military threat is overstated."

"Neither Russia nor the global West wants war and the worst-case scenario will be avoided," Asatryan said. "As many experts expected, NATO and the United States did not accept Russia's ultimatum conditions, and the dialogue took on the matter of long and routine negotiations. Moscow failed to achieve its maximalist aims. It looks like they were excessive and unrealistic."

"In turn, the situation has shown that the United States and NATO as a whole are somewhat tired of Ukraine, and, perhaps, we will witness a decrease in Western interest in Kiev," he added. "At the same time, the fact of frequent contacts between Russia and Western countries can be considered as a positive phenomenon that stabilizes European security."

At the same time, Moscow sought for its demands to be taken seriously. Russian Defense Ministry Sergei Shoigu on Friday acknowledged a rise in tensions, something he said Moscow could not be blamed for.

"The military and political situation in Europe is becoming increasingly tense, and it is not our fault at all," Shoigu said amid talks with his U.K. counterpart Ben Wallis. "We do not entirely and not always understand the reasons behind the escalation of those tensions. Still, we see that the tensions are growing."

And while Russian officials have not threatened military action against Ukraine, Kyiv's top diplomat has also given Moscow 48 hours to offer an explanation for its military activities near his country's borders in Russia and its ally Belarus.

"We have officially triggered the risk reduction mechanism in accordance with para. III of the Vienna Document," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a tweet, "and requested Russia to provide detailed explanations on military activities in the areas adjacent to the territory of Ukraine and in the temporarily occupied Crimea."

Ukrainian officials in recent weeks have sought to downplay U.S. statements signaling an imminent Russian military operation.

Contacted by Newsweek, Ukraine's embassy in Washington declined to comment on the U.S. statements.

Russian media cited Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying that Biden and Putin would hold a call Saturday at the former's request.

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.