Why a Russian invasion of Ukraine appears imminent despite intense diplomatic efforts

The Biden administration on Friday issued its most urgent warning yet that Russia could launch a war in Ukraine at any time. More than 100,000 Russian troops surround Ukraine on three sides, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan urged Americans to leave by the end of the weekend. U.S. officials tell our Nick Schifrin, they fear the war could start next week.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the Biden administration issued its most urgent warning yet that Russia could launch a war in Ukraine at any time. More than 100,000 Russian troops surround Ukraine on three sides, and the president's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, urged Americans to leave by the end of the weekend.

    U.S. officials tell our Nick Schifrin they fear the war could start next week.

    And Nick joins me now.

    So, Nick, what is it that has led to this more stark language coming from the administration?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, Judy, as you have said, Russia has deployed one of the largest forces that Europe has seen in the last 50 years.

    And Western and U.S. officials tell me that, in recent days, the U.S. saw those forces increase their readiness for a possible invasion. And U.S. officials became convinced that the timeline is being accelerated into next week.

    And so those facts combined led U.S. and military officials to brief their NATO allies. And three Western and U.S. officials tell me that President Vladimir Putin had made the decision to invade.

    Now, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was asked about my reporting by my colleague Amna Nawaz, and Sullivan said that Putin hadn't made that call just yet.

  • Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Adviser:

    We are not saying that a decision has been taken, a final decision has been taken by President Putin.

    What we are saying is that we have a sufficient level of concern, based on what we are seeing on the ground and what our intelligence analysts have picked up, that we are sending this clear message.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And that concern comes from three distinct aspects, Judy.

    First of all is the quantity of the forces. Take a look at this map from the south in Crimea to the southeast, where Russia has invaded in the past, to the Northeast and north and northwest along the Belarus border. Russian forces surround Ukraine. And, in Belarus, we have seen 30,000 Russian troops exercising.

    U.S. officials are also worried about the capabilities of those forces. Senior officials tell me Russia has moved everything from advanced missiles to advanced devices that can target Ukrainian telecommunications.

    And the third aspect is Russian intent. U.S. officials fear that Russian forces could assault Kyiv, like you're seeing on that map there, to try and depose the government.

    Now, last night, President Biden said — quote — that any invasion, "Things could go crazy quickly." Sullivan today laid it out specifically.

  • Jake Sullivan:

    If a Russian attack on Ukraine proceeds, it is likely to begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians without regard to their nationality. A subsequent ground invasion would involve the onslaught of a massive force.

    With virtually no notice, communications to arrange a departure could be severed, and commercial transit halted.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That means all communications, from cell phones in Ukraine to Internet, even GPS.

    And that is why the U.S. is warning Americans to get out this weekend.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Nick, is there anything going on at this moment on the diplomatic track?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    There are two items on the calendar still, Judy.

    President Biden will talk to Putin tomorrow morning. Putin had wanted to speak this coming Monday. But the U.S. proposed tomorrow, and the Kremlin accepted. That's according to an administration official.

    And German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is still scheduled, according to a senior German official I just spoke, to travel to Kyiv and Moscow to meet with Ukrainian and Russian officials.

    The administration, Judy, is trying to maintain any possible off-ramp, despite, frankly, the dire predictions.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, military moves announced today by the Biden administration?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, the Pentagon announced that an additional 1,300 troops from the 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, would deploy to Poland.

    That brings the total number deployed from the U.S. to Poland in the last month to 3,000 soldiers. And that's in addition to an additional 1,000 American soldiers who arrived today in another Eastern NATO flank country, Romania, from their deployment in Germany. That almost doubles the number of U.S. forces there.

    Now, Judy, I should mention that, this evening, the Russians put out a statement saying that all of these American increased warnings — quote — of a — were a — quote — "coordinated information" attack aimed at discrediting Russia's demands.

    U.S. officials, Judy, say it is Russia that is planning an information attack ahead of any invasion.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Nick Schifrin reporting on all these fast-moving events.

    And, Nick, I know you're going to continue to follow it as the weekend goes forward.

    Nick Schifrin, thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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