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U.S. officials warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could happen as early as this week – and likely before the end of the Beijing Olympics.
The call on Sunday came after Russian Ambassador to Sweden Viktor Tatarintsev said in an interview this weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘doesn’t give a s**t’ about the risk of Western sanctions should he invade Ukraine.
He also said, ‘the more the West pushes Russia, the stronger the Russian response will be’.
The potential invasion force prompted the US and the UK, along with other European nations, to warn their own citizens to leave the country while they still can.
‘President Biden made clear that the United States would respond swiftly and decisively, together with its Allies and partners, to any further Russian aggression against Ukraine,’ according to a White House readout of Sunday’s call with Zelensky.
‘The two leaders agreed on the importance of continuing to pursue diplomacy and deterrence in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,’ the readout stated.
The call to Zelensky came after Biden spoke to Putin on Saturday in what Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told Fox News was ‘certainly not a sign that things are moving in the right direction.’
Kirby said Saturday’s call between Biden and Putin proved tensions are not improving in Eastern Europe as he warns ‘major military action could happen any day now.’
‘It’s certainly not a sign that Mr. Putin has any intention to de-escalate the tensions,’ Kirby continued. ‘And it’s certainly not a sign that he is recommitting himself to a diplomatic path forward. So, it doesn’t give us any cause for optimism.’
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said he is still hopeful for a diplomatic path from Russia, but he reiterated Kirby’s warnings on CNN Sunday morning.
‘An invasion could begin – a major military action could begin by Russia in Ukraine any day now, that includes this coming week before the end of the Olympics,’ Sullivan told State of the Union host Jake Tapper.
A member of Ukraine’s National Guard, demonstrates a shooting position during a basic combat training for civilians in eastern Ukraine on Sunday as officials warn that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is increasingly imminent
Servicemen of Ukrainian Military Forces move US made FIM-92 Stinger missiles as Western fears grow that Russia is about to invade the ex-Soviet state
President Biden told told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a call on Sunday that the U.S. would respond ‘swiftly and decisively’ if Russia moves forward with an invasion on Ukraine
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Biden spoke on Sunday
Biden spoke to Putin on Saturday in what Defense Department spokesman John Kirby told Fox News was ‘certainly not a sign that things are moving in the right direction’
The shift in rhetoric away from diplomacy comes as Tatarintsev, Russia’s ambassador to Sweden said this weekend that Putin ‘doesn’t give a s**t’ about the risk of Western sanctions should he invade Ukraine.
In an outspoken interview Saturday, Tatarintsev told the country’s Aftonbladet newspaper that ‘the more the West pushes Russia, the stronger the Russian response will be’.
‘Excuse my language, but we don’t give a s**t about all their sanctions’.
‘We have already had so many sanctions and in that sense they’ve had a positive effect on our economy and agriculture.
‘New sanctions are nothing positive but not as bad as the West makes it sound’, he added.
Sanctions being considered could target both Russian businesses and individuals in a range of significant sectors, such as the chemical, defense, extractives, ICT and financial services industries.
However, Tatarintsev accused the West of not understanding the Russian mentality.
‘The more the West pushes Russia, the stronger the Russian response will be,’ he said.
Tatarintsev insisted Moscow was trying to avoid a war. ‘That is our political leadership’s most sincere wish. The last thing people in Russia want is war,’ he claimed.
‘We are more self-sufficient and have been able to increase our exports. We have no Italian or Swiss cheeses, but we’ve learned to make just as good Russian cheeses using Italian and Swiss recipes’, he said.
His comments came as dramatic photos today showed U.S. staff members of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has monitored the eight-year conflict in Ukraine’s separatist east, packing up and leaving the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
They were fleeing as Britain’s Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said a Russian invasion could be ‘imminent’ and Germany warned that tensions between Russia and Ukraine have reached a ‘critical’ point.
There are an estimated 130,000 Russian troops and heavy firepower amassed along Ukraine’s border.
The potential invasion force prompted the US and the UK, along with other European nations, to warn their own citizens to leave the country while they still can.
Although many of the 6,000 Britons in Ukraine have already fled, some are stranded in the country as they wait for passports to be issued for their newborn babies.
Mr Lewis told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday: ‘We have to be realistic about Russia having 100,000 troops now roughly on the border that an imminent incursion by Russia is entirely possible.’
He was echoing warnings by Defense Secretary Ben Wallace, who said last night that millions of refugees could flee Ukraine if an invasion takes place and warned Vladimir Putin could strike ‘at any time’.
Speaking in an interview with the Sunday Times, Mr Wallace added that there is a ‘whiff of Munich in the air’ – an apparent reference to the 1938 agreement that allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland in the hope that it would prevent the outbreak of war.
Just a year later, the Second World War began when Hitler invaded Poland, with Britain’s Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s efforts to preserve peace left in tatters.
Russian armored vehicles move at the Gozhsky training ground near the border with Ukraine on Saturday during Russia-Belarus military drills in Belarus. Russia has massed troops near the Ukraine border but denies invasion plans
A Russian helicopter fires during during joint exercises of the armed forces of Russia and Belarus at the Gozhsky firing range in the Grodno region, near the Ukrainian border on Saturday
Uragan rocket launchers are fired during joint Russian-Belarusian military drills on Saturday, as tensions escalate
U.S. troops of the 82nd Airborne Division recently deployed to Poland set up camp at a military airport in Mielec, southeastern Poland, on Saturday. Meanwhile the Pentagon is withdrawing 160 military trainers from Ukraine
The Pentagon deployed another 3,000 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division to Eastern Europe on Saturday. About 1,700 troops were deployed last week
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Sunday of ‘severe consequences’ should Russia invades Ukraine, claiming an assault on ‘Kyiv’ is an assault on democracy as a whole
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued on Sunday a stark warning to Russia by claiming an attack on Ukraine would equate an assault on democracy as a whole and insisted Putin knows ‘war is not an answer’.
‘The fact is that we think that an assault on Ukraine is an assault on democracy,’ Pelosi told ABC This Week host George Stephanopoulos. ‘We understand that the loss of life, the damage, the collateral damage to civilians, to military and the rest are severe.’
‘If he decides to invade, the mothers in Russia don’t like their children going into what he’s had to experience that – forgive the expression – bodybags from the moms before. So he has to know that war is not an answer,’ she added.
‘There’s very severe consequences to his aggression, and we are united in using them,’ the California Democrat threatened.
Russia has amassed about 120,000 soldiers at its border with Ukraine. The Russian troops have been engaging in weapons tests near the border as a show of strength
A satellite image made available by Maxar Technologies shows alleged new Russian deployments at Slavne, Crimea, earlier this week. More than 550 troop tents and hundreds of vehicles have arrived at the Oktyabrskoye airfield north of Simferopol
A satellite image shows a close-up of troops and equipment at Oktyabrskoye air base, Crimea
Even more U.S. Military aid arrived in Boryspil International Airport outside Kyiv on Sunday to help bolster defenses in Ukraine without actually deploying troops there.
GOP Senator Lindsey Graham that he wants to see Putin ‘punished now’ as Congress works toward a bill to issue sanctions on Russia – even as many claim this isn’t enough and warn military involvement is inevitable at this point.
‘What do you make of this overall strategy we’re seeing from the administration?’ Sephanopoulos asked Graham on his Sunday program. ‘Do you think that maybe has been effective in pushing Putin back?’
‘I don’t know. That’s a really good question,’ the South Carolina senator admitted. ‘I don’t want to ring an alarm bell as much as take action. They’re telling us the invasion is imminent. But they’re not telling Putin with clarity what happens if you invade.’
Although Russia has yet to announce any plans for an invasion, intelligence officials said it could come at anytime now while journalists warn it may come Wednesday
On Sunday, a German government source warned that tensions between Russia and Ukraine have reached a ‘critical’ point.
They were speaking on the eve of Chancellor Scholz’s departure for Kyiv and then Moscow.
‘Our concerns have grown… we asses the situation as very critical, very dangerous’, the source told members of the press, as fears grow that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent.
What is Vladimir Putin’s personal wealth and could sanctions affect him?
Vladimir Putin is notoriously secretive about his private life and personal wealth.
In 2017, it was reported that he could have a personal wealth of as much as $200billion.
The figure was mentioned by US financier and fierce critic Bill Browder, who claimed that Putin had siphoned off public funds into ‘Swiss bank accounts’.
One of the most quoted guesses of Putin’s personal wealth, made by political analyst Stanslav Belkovsky in 2007, put it at $40billion.
If the lower figure is more accurate, it would still make him one of the world’s richest men.
Belkovsky later upped his estimate to $70billion.
A sign of wealth for Putin is his £73.2 million pleasure craft, named Graceful.
In December 2020, it was suggested by a Russian newspaper that a vast palace that sprung up near Moscow could have been owned by Putin himself.
And in documents dubbed the Panama Papers that were released last year, Mr Putin was linked to secret assets in Monaco.
However, in April 2015, Putin declared a 2014 income of just $119,000, listing ownership of two apartments and a share in a car parking garage.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss warned last month that an enhanced sanctions regime would allow Britain to target any ‘strategic interest’ of the Russian state.
It meant that Mr Putin’s wealthy supporters, many of whom have bases in London, were in the firing line to be hit financially.
‘Any company of interest to the Kremlin and the regime in Russia would be able to be targeted,’ Miss Truss told Sky News. ‘So there will be nowhere to hide for Putin’s oligarchs, for Russian companies involved in propping up the state.’
Photos today showed staff at the OSCE withdrawing by car from the city of Donetsk, which has been held by Russian-backed rebels since 2014.
The staff were pictured carrying suitcases and wearing rucksacks as they climbed into white SUVs emblazoned with the OSCE logo.
They were leaving after the US and the UK warned their citizens to get out of the country.
Today, Russia said it was concerned by the decision of the OSCE to relocate some of its monitors.
The OSCE ‘informed the participating states of the decision by ‘a number of countries’ to relocate their national staff of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine ‘due to deteriorating security conditions”, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
‘These decisions cannot but cause our serious concern.’
The OSCE has served as the world’s eyes and ears for the eight-year conflict across Ukraine’s Russian-backed separatist east that has claimed more than 14,000 lives.
Zakharova said the OSCE move further inflamed tensions over Ukraine, adding that the monitoring mission could be used as a ‘tool’ to stage a possible provocation.
‘We call on the OSCE leadership to resolutely stop attempts to manipulate the mission and prevent the organization from being drawn into dirty political games,’ Zakharova added.
On Friday, the Foreign Office updated its advice to tell UK nationals to ‘leave now while commercial means are still available’ amid mounting concerns they could get caught up in fighting – including a deadly ‘aerial bombardment of Kiev’.
However, some defiant Britons have insisted that they will stay in the country, even as airlines start to stop flights and diplomats leave. Lecturer Charlie Gilkeson is one of those staying put.
The 68-year-old Yorkshireman told the Mail on Sunday that he feels it would be wiser to remain, even as he finds himself in a ‘possible war’.
He is staying in a flat he is renovating with his wife, whom he met in Russia. His children have urged him to come to the UK. ‘I think it is safer here,’ he said.
Northern Ireland Secretary Mr Lewis told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme that the West must realise Russia could ‘move very quick’ despite diplomatic efforts to prevent an invasion of Ukraine.
But he also defended diplomatic action so far, saying it had probably already delayed a strike into Ukraine from Moscow forces.
Discussing Mr Wallace’s comparison with appeasement in the late 1930s, Mr Lewis said: ‘If you look back to that period of time there was a lot of diplomatic engagement, there was an optimism at the time actually that there may be a diplomatic way through.
‘That eventually turned out not to be the case. It turned out that wasn’t the intent or aim of Adolf Hitler at the time.
‘What he’s [Mr Wallace] drawing comparison with is we hope that the conversation that he’s had that the Foreign Secretary and others… has a positive outcome and Russia does work through and find a diplomatic peaceful way out of this.
‘But he’s expressing that concern that we’ve got to also understand the reality that while they’re having these diplomatic conversations Russia has continued to move troops, we’ve got about 130,000 troops on the borders, and therefore we’ve got to be cognisant of the reality they could move very quick.’
Speaking later on Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme, Mr Lewis said: ‘We will bring in more sanctions, that is what one of the repercussions will be… we already have some sanctions against Russia already.
‘We have already taken the power in last week or so with the statutory instrument in Parliament to allow the UK to put more sanctions in place.
‘I spent most of last week in the United states… what is very clear is that the United States are absolutely unified in this approach to ensure that we do not see an incursion and that if Russia does take that kind of activity then there will be repercussions. ‘
Mr Lewis was speaking after Mr Wallace’s warning that there could be ‘millions’ of refugees if Russia does choose to invade Ukraine.
He said that the potential for ‘millions of displaced people – refugees – pouring from one European country to another hasn’t been seen since the war and could potentially have a massive impact.’
His comments echoed previous warnings by Ukraine’s defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, who said that a ‘major war’ could lead to the ‘sudden appearance of between three and five million Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion’.
Mr Wallace said that Moscow could ‘launch an offensive at any time’, with an estimated 130,000 Russian troops and heavy firepower amassed along Ukraine’s border.
‘It may be that he [Putin] just switches off his tanks and we all go home but there is a whiff of Munich in the air from some in the West,’ he added.
A source explained that Mr Wallace was concerned that if Putin strikes ‘come what may, then all the diplomacy would have been a straw man’.
US officials have discussed receiving intelligence that Russia is considering Wednesday as a target date to strike, but it was unclear how definitive the intelligence was.
But Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky sought to downplay the threat, saying: ‘The best friend of our enemies is panic in our country. And all this information is just provoking panic and can’t help us.’
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the White House of stoking ‘hysteria’.
Poland is among the countries that are preparing to absorb an influx of people fleeing conflict if it does break out.
Writing on the website of the think tank the Atlantic Council in December last year about a potential refugee crisis, Mr Reznikov said: ‘A major war in Ukraine would plunge the whole of Europe into crisis.
‘The sudden appearance of between three and five million Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion would be just one of many major concerns facing European society.
‘For example, the EU relies heavily on food imports including grain. A major war would seriously disrupt and possibly prevent entirely many imports from both Ukraine and Russia, creating a whole range of food security problems for the entire continent.’
Poland is one nation neighboring Ukraine that is preparing for an influx of refugees.
Speaking earlier this month, the country’s deputy interior minister, Maciej Wasik, told Polish radio: ‘We have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario and [we have] been taking steps so as to be prepared for a wave of up to a million people.’
Armed Forces minister James Heappey warned Russia is in a position to be able to attack ‘very, very quickly’, with an estimated 130,000 troops on Ukraine’s border
The alleged invasion plans, reported by German newspaper Der Spiegel, are said to detail specific routes that might be taken by individual Russian units and were analyzed by the Secret Service, the CIA and the Pentagon before being handed over to President Joe Biden’s government.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held an emergency call with Russian diplomat Sergei Lavrov to discuss the crisis yesterday, after the ‘extremely detailed’ plans stoked fears of war in eastern Europe.
He warned his Russian counterpart that further aggression from Moscow would be met with a ‘resolute, massive and united transatlantic response’.
Mr Blinken had said that the crisis had reached a ‘pivotal moment’, adding that there continues to be ‘very troubling signs of Russian escalation’, including new forces arriving close to Ukraine’s borders.
But speaking during a live broadcast yesterday, Mr Zelensky told the US: ‘If you have 100 percent-certain information about a Russian invasion of Ukraine, please share it with us’.
He added that he realized ‘such risks do exist’ and that his country remains ready to take any measure necessary and ‘from any border.’