Europe’s next major war could start as soon as next week.
The drumbeat of war between Russia and Ukraine reached a deafening crescendo Friday, with the United States reportedly convinced that a full scale Russian invasion of the former Soviet satellite nation could begin as early as next week.
Multiple outlets reported Friday that the United States has concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to move forward with his Ukrainian invasion plans, just one day after Russian armed forces began engaging in massive military exercises in nearby Belarus. According to PBS NewsHour’s Nick Schifrin, who initially broke news of the Western officials’ conclusion, the escalation would likely begin with a bombardment campaign coupled with expansive cyberattacks. After several days, officials believe, Russia would launch a full-scale ground campaign to invade. At a press briefing Friday afternoon, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan declined to comment on specific intelligence to suggest the invasion was inevitable, and insisted that a final decision was still forthcoming, but nevertheless cautioned that should Putin give the order to proceed, it would likely occur before the Olympic Games in China were over — a sentiment already shared earlier this week by Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Friday’s developments came as governments around the world scrambled to pull diplomatic assets and their families from the region ahead of the increasing likelihood of violence, as well as issued travel warnings for citizens in the area. “We want to be crystal clear on this point: Any American in Ukraine should leave as soon as possible and in any event, the next 24 to 48 hours,” Sullivan stressed Friday.
Sullivan also promised that the United States was ready to “respond decisively” should Russia invade, although to date President Biden has held off on pledging any direct U.S. military action. However, America has already begun shipping weaponry and other equipment to Ukraine, and has also considered deploying and transferring several thousand U.S. troops throughout neighboring countries in preparation for a potential conflict. The U.S. and other NATO countries have long operated under the goal to ultimately include Ukraine in the vast military alliance.
Russia, for its part, has publicly feigned no intention of pressing ahead with an invasion — the goal of which is believed to be an effort to install a pro-Russian government in Ukraine. Despite conducting massive military exercises for the past few days near the Russian/Ukrainian border, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted that “the military-political situation in Europe is growing increasingly tense, and not at our fault” during a meeting this week with British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
While Russian forces haven’t engaged in a full-scale assault on Ukraine since the 2014 annexation of the Crimea region, it has backed the sporadic, relatively-low grade fighting that’s occurred throughout Ukraine over the intervening years.
In the meantime, given the prospect of a shooting war in Eastern Europe now seeming like an increasing inevitability, Sullivan still offered a note of optimism on Friday: “We are ready either way,” he told the press. “If President Putin wants to engage in diplomacy, we are prepared to engage in diplomacy.”