Russia has massed nearly all the forces – infantry, artillery, cruise and ballistic missiles – it will need to mount a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a senior Defense official told USA TODAY.
Those forces include two dozen warships in the Black Sea and represent nearly 100% of the combat power needed for a large-scale at, said the official who briefed reporters but was not authorized to speak publicly.
The strategic movement of Russian forces comes as Ukraine was poised to implement a 30-day state of emergency on Wednesday. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called up military reservists, as Russia recognized two separatist regions as independent and appeared mobilized for major military action.
Zelenskyy said that Ukraine wants “silence” but noted it must act. “But if we remain silent today, we will disappear tomorrow,” he said late Tuesday.
The nation’s parliament must approve the emergency declaration, initiated by Ukraine’s security council and coming a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin received permission from lawmakers to use troops outside the country.
The Kremlin’s actions drew wide condemnation and major sanctions from the United States and European Union.
“Russia just announced that it is carving out a big chunk of Ukraine,” President Joe Biden said Tuesday. And that served as the trigger for the U.S. to impose sanctions targeting Moscow’s banks and some elite individuals. Biden said Russia “will pay an even steeper price” if aggression continues.
On Wednesday, Biden announced new sanctions on the company overseeing the Russian-owned gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, as well as its corporate officers, in response to Moscow’s invasion.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other officials have remained on an even keel, downplaying any threat, even as their nation has become nearly surrounded by over 150,000 Russian troops, built up over months.
Zelenskyy continued talks on Tuesday with neighboring leaders, speaking with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Diplomacy between Russia and Western allies appeared all but dead, following the announcement of penalties. Secretary of State Antony Blinken canceled his Thursday meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Russia close to having forces in place for large-scale invasion
Russian President Vladimir Putin has nearly all the forces in place for a large-scale invasion of Ukraine that could happen at any hour, according to a senior Defense official.
About 80% of those forces have moved into forward positions, ranging from three to thirty miles of the Ukrainian border, said the official who briefed reporters but was not authorized to speak publicly.
Putin has massed infantry, artillery, cruise and ballistic missiles as well as two dozen warships in the Black Sea. Those forces represent nearly 100% of the combat power Putin needs for a large-scale invasion.
There are 10 Russian amphibious landing ships in the Black Sea, the official said. They exist for a sole reason: putting boots on the ground, the official said.
Indications of an imminent invasion are based on intelligence gathering and satellite imagery, the official said.
– Tom Vanden Brook
Biden imposes sanctions on company behind Nord Stream 2 pipeline
President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he’s directed his administration to impose new sanctions on the company overseeing the Russian-owned gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, as well as its corporate officers, in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” Biden said in a statement. “As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.”
The Biden administration blocked those sanctions from taking effect last year using a national security waiver, in a bid to repair U.S. relations with Germany, which relies heavily on Russia for its gas supplies. The not-yet-operational pipeline runs from Russia to Germany.
Wednesday’s move, made in coordination with America’s European allies, comes after Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday blocked certification of the natural gas pipeline that runs from Russia underseas to Germany.
Biden said, through Putin’s actions in Ukraine, the Russian leader has “provided the world with an overwhelming incentive to move away from Russian gas and to other forms of energy.
The company that owns the pipeline, Nord Stream 2 AG, is based in Switzerland and controlled by the Russian-based company Gazprom. The company is led by CEO Matthias Warnig, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Nord Stream 2 has the capacity to handle 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year if it becomes operational, making it a major point of leverage for Europe and the U.S. over Russia.
Biden announced a raft of other economic sanctions Tuesday that include blacklisting two Russian financial institutions and its sovereign debt, along with penalties targeting a handful of “Russian elites” with close ties to Putin.
– Joey Garrison
The Russian government has begun evacuating diplomats from Ukraine, according to Russian state media. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced an evacuation of diplomatic staff from Ukraine on Tuesday, citing safety reasons.
Diplomats in the Russian embassy in Kyiv, as well as consulates at Lviv, Kharkiv or Odessa, were evacuating are leaving the country, according to TASS News Agency, which is owned by the Russian government.
The agency confirmed that diplomats are burning documents and evacuating the country while the mission flags in Kyiv and Odessa have been taken down, according to on-the-ground reports.
In a Monday speech denouncing Ukrainian independence and identity, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized two breakaway provinces in Ukraine’s east as independent countries and began sending so-called “peacekeeping” forces to the region.
In retaliation, the US and European countries announced a new round of severe sanctions on Russian elites, financial institutions and entities in the breakaway provinces themselves.
– Matthew Brown
Ukraine’s minister for digital transformation says cyberattacks are disrupting government websites and those of some banks in his country.
Mikhail Fedorov said Wednesday the distributed denial-of-service attacks targeted the websites of the Ukrainian parliament, Cabinet and foreign ministry.
He said they also caused interruptions or delays on the sites of the defense and internal affairs ministry, which controls the police.
NATO has blamed recent cyberattacks in Ukraine on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and warned further attacks were likely as tensions over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine mounted.
– Associated Press
China on Wednesday accused the U.S. of creating “fear and panic” over the crisis in Ukraine, and called for talks to reduce rapidly building tensions.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China is opposed to new unilateral sanctions imposed on Russia, reiterating a longstanding Chinese position.
“When expanding NATO eastward five times to the vicinity of Russia and deploying advanced offensive strategic weapons in breach of its assurances to Russia, did the US ever think about the consequence of pushing a big country to the wall?” she tweeted.
She said the U.S. was fueling tensions by providing defensive weapons to Ukraine, without mentioning Russia’s deployment of as many as 190,000 troops on the Ukrainian border. Hua also did not mention efforts by the U.S., France and others to engage Russia diplomatically.
China-Russia ties have grown closer under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin in Beijing earlier this month. The two sides issued a joint statement backing Moscow’s opposition to a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and buttressing China’s claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan.
– Associated Press
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The sanctions Biden outlined on Tuesday target two Russian banks, VEB and military bank Promsvyazbank, along with the penalties on the country’s sovereign debt. The Biden administration said those steps would be the most crippling.
The U.S. official described the first bank targeted by the U.S. as “a glorified piggy bank for the Kremlin that holds more than $50 billion in assets.” He said Promsvyazbank finances the activities of the Russian military.
“That means we’ve cut off Russia’s government from Western financing,” he said. “It can no longer raise money from the West and cannot trade in its new debt on our markets or the European markets either.”
Russian oligarchs were targeted, too, including: Aleksandr Vasilievich Bortnikov, director of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, and his son Dennis; Petr Mikhailovich Fradkov, chairman and CEO of PSB, or Promsvyazbank; and Sergei Vladilenovich Kiriyenko, first deputy chief of staff of the presidential office, and his son Vladimir.
Contributing: Michael Collins, USA TODAY; Associated Press