update(2/12 8:23amET): In the overnight and early Saturday morning hours, both the US and Russians appear to be drawing down and evacuating their embassies in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in what's the most ominous sign yet that military confrontation could be on the horizon.
"The United States is set to evacuate its embassy in Kyiv as Western intelligence officials warn that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is increasingly imminent," The Associated Press reports Saturday. "U.S. officials said the State Department plans to announce early Saturday that virtually all American staff at the Kyiv embassy will be required to leave ahead of a feared Russian invasion."
"A small number of officials may remain in Kyiv but the vast majority of the almost 200 Americans at the embassy will be sent out or relocated to Ukraine’s far west, near the Polish border, so the U.S. can retain a diplomatic presence in the country." The US Embassy confirmed it has ordered all non-essential staff to depart the country immediately, also all US national in the country have been urged to leave.
Today, the @StateDept ordered non-emergency U.S. employees at the Embassy to depart due to continued reports of a Russian military build-up on the border with Ukraine, indicating potential for significant military action. https://t.co/6IgLvE4PJS— U.S. Embassy Kyiv (@USEmbassyKyiv) February 12, 2022
"Military action may commence at any time and without warning," the US has said.
Russia's Foreign Ministry too has confirmed it's reducing its diplomatic presence in the country, including its embassy and consulates. A statement says Moscow fears "possible provocations from the Kyiv regime or third countries" that could "seriously complicate the security situation."
We are indeed entering uncharted territory with this ratcheting situation, which escalated in earnest with Friday afternoon accusations from the White House that Russia will invade within days...
Russia and US are both evacuating their diplomatic staff from Ukraine, with each side accusing the other of planning some sort of imminent military action.— max seddon (@maxseddon) February 12, 2022
The US warnings of war are really extraordinary – we’re truly in uncharted territory here. https://t.co/9XFa1FvSCP
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update(5:12pmET): Both the US and Russian sides have confirmed that Biden and Putin are scheduled to hold an urgent phone call Saturday at the request of Washington. The White House earlier said it is "trying to stop a war".
Below is Russia's full reaction to the afternoon's White House press briefing and flurry of statements from officials alleging Putin has made the decision to invade Ukraine within "days"...
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova slammed reports Friday about Russia's "imminent invasion" of Ukraine as a "mass disinformation campaign" against Russia.
"The White House hysteria is more revealing than ever. The Anglo-Saxons need a war. At any cost. Provocations, disinformation, and threats are favorite methods of solving their own problems," she wrote in a post on her Telegram channel. "Road roller of the American military-political machine is ready to go through people's lives. The whole world is watching how militarism, imperial ambitions denounce themselves. And a propaganda brigade chaired by Bloomberg serving all this."
Zakharova said the position of Western officials "in conditions of a mass disinformation campaign against Russia" is worth a separate mention -- avoiding giving a proper assessment of what is happening, the authorities validate their involvement in "fakes."
"We can talk about the collusion of the authorities of Western countries and the media in order to escalate artificial tension around Ukraine by the massive and coordinated publication of false information in geopolitical interests, in particular, to distract attention from their own aggressive actions," she wrote.
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update(4:05pmET): Despite the as usual contradictory messaging out of this administration, on the one hand serving up another dose of afternoon panic and market turmoil on the news Russia will invade Ukraine in a matter of days (it's been "days" and "imminent" for multiple weeks at this point), nothing seems to have actually changed on the ground at the Russia-Ukraine border... though Blinken has claimed Russian troops have moved closer to the border.
Multiple White House officials are currently telling various major US news outlets that the US now believes Putin has made the decision to attack Ukraine - though in a public news briefing Jake Sullivan still presented a confused picture... on the one hand telling US citizens to exit Ukraine immediately as a military offensive is nigh, but on the other cautioning he's still not sure Putin has made the final decision.
Official from a NATO ally tells me Pres Biden told them today the US does believe Vladimir Putin has decided to attack Ukraine. Next week.— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) February 11, 2022
And now once again Moscow is "calling bullshit". Late at night Friday local time, the Kremlin responded to the latest headline panic-fest in the aftermath of the White House afternoon briefing, calling the new 'predictions' yet more US "disinformation".. according to the news wires:
RUSSIA SAYS BY SPREADING DISINFORMATION ABOUT PLANNED RUSSIAN INVASION OF UKRAINE WESTERN COUNTRIES WANT TO DISTRACT ATTENTION FROM THEIR OWN AGGRESSIVE ACTIONS
And here's Secretary of State Blinken from earlier in the day:
...Blinken said new Russian forces had arrived at the border in what he described as "very troubling signs of Russian escalation".
"We're in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics [which end on 20 February]," Mr Blinken said.
There are reports that the US Embassy in Kiev is literally phoning US national directly, urging their departure:
NEW: US State Department is calling US citizens here in Ukraine and telling them they should leave the country immediately. It’s not an automated message. A real person is on the line asking if people have made travel arrangements. @Kiehart just got that call here in Kyiv.— Christopher Miller (@ChristopherJM) February 11, 2022
The EU has said it will not reduce diplomatic staff in the country, however, other countries are telling their nationals to leave, including Israel and the UK:
Among other countries calling on citizens to leave are the UK, the Netherlands, Latvia, Japan and South Korea. The British foreign office said all UK nationals "should leave now while commercial means are still available".
In its warning, Latvia cited "a serious threat to security posed by Russia".
Biden is now reportedly seeking to hold an urgent phone call with Putin. "US President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak on Saturday, according to an official," Bloomberg reports.
State Dept is calling some of the 30,000 American citizens in Ukraine urging them to evacuate the country in the next 24-48 hours, official adds— Lucas Tomlinson (@LucasFoxNews) February 11, 2022
And with all this, a little Friday humor is in order...
Now they said the source regarding Russian invasion is not even US intelligence… is a source from our allies… so “it’s a source close to a source that might to know a course close to a Tiger Woods” pic.twitter.com/sn0QVHm3wf— VIXTrader (@AlbanyfxTrader) February 11, 2022
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update(2:51pmET): The White House is now telling Americans in Ukraine to get out of the country "immediately" - giving a 24 to 48 hour time frame to make a safe exit. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan urged all US citizens in Ukraine "to depart immediately." The number of Americans in the country is often estimated in the tens of thousands - likely somewhere around 30,000 - including dual citizens.
U.S. ORDERS ADDITIONAL 3,000 TROOPS TO POLAND
"We want to be crystal clear on this point. Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible and in any event, in the next 24 to 48 hours," Sullivan said. "We obviously cannot predict the future. We don't know exactly what is going to happen, but the risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough." If they stay, Americans "are assuming risk with no guarantee that there will be any other opportunity to leave and no prospect of a US Military evacuation in the event of a Russian invasion," he added.
MORE DETAILS: U.S. officials believe Russia's action could start as soon as TUESDAY, and could include a provocation in Ukraine's Donbas region, or an attack on the capital, Kyiv, sources say. https://t.co/246zBTLtSq— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) February 11, 2022
The US is trying to *start* a war— Armani (@historyofarmani) February 11, 2022
“It is the time to leave now,” he said. “We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it.” Sullivan also in the afternoon press briefing said it's US intelligence's belief that Putin could launch an invasion by the end of the Olympics...
"We continue to see signs of Russian escalation including now forces arriving at the border. As we've said before, we're in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it. I will not comment on the details of our intelligence information but I do want to be clear, it could begin during the Olympics, despite a lot of speculation that it will only happen after the Olympics."
As oil spiked and markets tumbled, there was this to follow all the panicked warnings coming out of the White House... "but an official says the U.S. doesn’t know whether Russia has decided either way," according to the WSJ.
❗️US intelligence says “Putin has made the decisions to invade Ukraine”.— Murad Gazdiev (@MuradGazdiev) February 11, 2022
They had previously said this, the dialed back, and are now saying this again
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Though it's unclear what precisely on the ground has actually changed, President Biden is urging all Americans in Ukraine to "leave now". "American citizens should leave now," Biden said while discussing the Russian troop build-up threatening Ukraine in a new NBC News interview.
The president warned that "things could go crazy quickly" in the region and so it's necessary that US citizens initiate plans to depart the country immediately. He further described in the interview set to air in full later in the day, "It's not like we're dealing with a terrorist organization. We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It's a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly."
However, elsewhere in the interview he suggested that it's anything but certain that President Putin has made his intentions clear. Biden told NBC that if if Putin "foolish enough to go in, he's smart enough not to ...do anything that would negatively impact on American citizens."
Earlier this week the Pentagon revealed plans to stage a logistics operation along the Polish-Ukrainian border, just inside Poland, that would assist in any potential large-scale evacuation of US citizens from Ukraine in the event of a Russian invasion. Biden addressed the possibility further with NBC:
Biden said during his NBC interview that "there's not" a situation that could prompt him to send US troops to rescue Americans attempting to exit Ukraine, adding, "That's a world war when Americans and Russia start shooting at one another."
Already some 2,000 additional US troops have been sent from Fort Bragg and Germany to Poland in order to put in place the necessary logistics for an evacuation.
Meanwhile, the US State Department is still warning against all American travel to Ukraine. Further it re-issued a travel advisory from last month citing "increased threats of Russian military action" which makes it necessary for US citizens to depart.
President Joe Biden said on Thursday #US 🇺🇸 citizens should leave #Ukraine 🇺🇦 now due to the “increased threats of Russian military action” against the country.— FRANCE 24 English (@France24_en) February 11, 2022
The warning comes after #Russia and #Belarus launched joint military drills on Thursday ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/thTlCtGLEW
The advisory warns Americans they must "be aware that the US government will not be able to evacuate US citizens in the event of Russian military action anywhere in Ukraine."
Without doubt, the US administration still has the Afghan evacuation deadly debacle looming in the background. There's still said to be US citizens and dual nationals stuck in Taliban-run Afghanistan as a result of efforts which were too little, too late.
US thinks it can run the world with this CEO at the helm... https://t.co/IQTp2uZkHu— Ron Paul Institute (@RonPaulInstitut) February 11, 2022
Ukraine's government has at the same time sought to cool the Washington rhetoric, saying it's causing unnecessary panic within Ukraine's population. Likely Kiev will not be too happy with Biden's latest words telling Americans to depart the country, which Zelensky himself has said is premature and overly alarmist.