Alarms are being raised that a Russian attack on Ukraine could happen at any moment. Here is a quick briefing, based on Globe wire services and major media reports, on what you need to know.
What are the latest developments?
The White House on Tuesday began referring to Russian troop deployments in Eastern Ukraine as an “invasion” after initially resisting using that term. President Biden said an invasion would result in US sanctions, and he is set to speak on Tuesday afternoon.
“We think this is, yes, the beginning of an invasion, Russia’s latest invasion into Ukraine,” said Jon Finer, principal deputy national security adviser, said on CNN. “An invasion is an invasion, and that is what is underway.”
Several European leaders said earlier in the day that Russian troops have moved into rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine — but some indicated it was not yet the long-feared, full-fledged invasion.
Last week, Biden said that the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine remained “very high,” and that he expected Russian President Vladimir Putin to carry it out within several days.
“Every indication we have is they’re prepared to go into Ukraine,” he said, though he said he still believed a diplomatic resolution was possible, adding that “there is a path. There is a way through this.”
World leaders over the weekend made another push for diplomacy, with Biden and Putin tentatively agreeing to meet if Russia doesn’t invade Ukraine in a last-ditch effort to avoid war.
But Putin on Monday recognized the independence of separatist regions in Ukraine and made the case that Ukraine was a country “created by Russia.” Russia has amassed 150,000 troops on three sides of Ukraine.
In response to Russian action, the White House issued an executive order prohibiting US investment and trade in the separatist regions. Germany also suspended certification of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline that would bring natural gas from Russia as a way to punish the Kremlin for recognizing the separatist regions.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN Security Council last Thursday that Russia is likely to fabricate a pretext for its invasion and had already picked out objectives to advance on, including the capital, Kyiv.
Blinken made detailed allegations about Russia’s possible plans, saying, “We’ve been warning the Ukrainian Government of all that is coming. And here today, we are laying it out in great detail, with the hope that by sharing what we know with the world, we can influence Russia to abandon the path of war and choose a different path while there’s still time.”
In another indicator of rising tensions, the No. 2 diplomat at the US Embassy in Moscow was expelled.
Wait, weren’t the Russians withdrawing?
The Russian Defense Ministry said earlier last week and reiterated last Thursday that troops were being moved away from the border. But the US and other officials don’t believe it.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who was joined by the head of NATO in Brussels, said Russia continued to move troops closer to Ukraine’s borders, was adding combat aircraft, and was stocking up on blood supplies in anticipation of casualties on the battlefield.
“I was a soldier myself not that long ago,” Austin said. “I know firsthand that you don’t do these sorts of things for no reason. And you certainly don’t do them if you’re getting ready to pack up and go home.” The US has estimated Russia has 150,000 troops in the area.
Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO chief, said, “They have enough troops to launch a full-scale invasion,” repeating his assertion that Russia could attack Ukraine with very little warning.
Is America going to be involved?
Biden reiterated last Tuesday he will not send American troops to fight for Ukraine, but he said that “we have supplied the Ukrainian military with equipment to help them defend themselves. We have provided training and advice and intelligence for the same purpose.”
The United States has also started deploying 5,000 troops to Poland and Romania. Another 8,500 are on standby, and some US troops are expected to move toward Bulgaria. “I have sent additional U.S. forces to bolster NATO’s eastern flank,” Biden said last week. Other NATO countries are also moving troops and equipment to the NATO countries near Ukraine.
Biden emphasized he was committed to defending the countries in NATO, the Western military alliance created at the end of the Cold War. Ukraine is at the eastern edge of the NATO area but it is not in NATO.
If war breaks out, Biden administration officials warned last month, the US could back a Ukrainian insurgency. Biden has also threatened Putin with “economic consequences like none he’s ever seen,”
How did this all begin?
Ukraine was part of the Russian empire for centuries and then became a republic within the Soviet Union. It won independence when the USSR broke up in 1991. The country in recent years has moved to forge closer ties with the West.
Russia has balked at the idea of Ukraine – which shares a border with Russia – joining NATO, painting such a scenario as an existential threat.
Russia says it wants the West to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet nations out of NATO, halt weapons deployments near Russian borders, and roll back NATO forces from Eastern Europe, demands the allies have flatly rejected.
While the US and its allies have rejected Moscow’s demands to bar membership to Ukraine, they offered to engage in talks with Russia on limiting missile deployments in Europe, restrictions on military drills, and other confidence-building measures.
Russia’s foreign ministry responded, deploring the West’s refusal to meet the main Russian security demands and reaffirming that Moscow could take unspecified “military-technical measures.” At the same time, it said Russia was ready to discuss other measures to enhance security, The Associated Press reported.