BERLIN – According to officials, US intelligence indicates that Russia may invade Ukraine at any time in the coming days, including before the end of the Winter Olympics, which close on Sunday 20 February. The US, along with several others including Israel and Germany, has urged its nationals to immediately leave Ukraine, saying it will not be able to evacuate them in case of a Russian attack. Some sources report 16 February as the date Joe Biden, the US president, told allies that Russia could attack its neighbour.
The US believes a Russian assault could be aimed at the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, in an attempt to force regime change in the country. The Russian and Belarusian militaries are currently conducting joint exercises in Belarus, leading to what officials in the Baltic countries last week told me is an “unprecedented” Russian military presence in its smaller neighbour.
On 12 February, Biden spoke with the Russian president Vladimir Putin in an attempt to impress on him what he said would be the high costs of an invasion. These costs would be mostly economic and political, as Biden and leaders of other Nato countries have made clear that they will not fight to defend Ukraine, which is not a member of the alliance.
As ever, though, Ukrainian views on the imminence of an invasion continue to differ from the US’s assessment. Four analysts from the Center for Defence Strategies, a Kyiv-based think tank, argue that the forces Russia has massed at the border, now numbering around 147,000, are insufficient for a wholesale invasion of part or the whole of the country. More likely, they say, is an escalation in eastern Ukraine, possibly acting as a trigger for the official entry of Russian troops into the Donbas.
Meanwhile, Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, will be in Kyiv today for talks with Volodymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian president. From there, he will travel to Moscow tomorrow to meet with Putin. If war does break out this week, Scholz may be the last Western leader who will be able to meet with Putin to attempt to dissuade him from an assault on Ukraine.
We will find out within days if the US’s assessment is right.