US sees ‘every indication’ Russia will launch new attack on Ukraine

Ukrainian soldier Anastasia (21) rests in a shelter near Avdiivka in the Donetsk Oblast on Wednesday. Photograph: Stas Kozlyuk/EPA


A top US diplomat has said Washington sees “every indication” that Russia will launch a new attack on Ukraine, possibly by mid-February, as US citizens were urged to leave the embattled country despite calls for calm from its leaders.

The US and Nato delivered written replies on Wednesday to a set of sweeping security demands made by Russia, as Ukrainian, Russian, German and French officials met in Paris to discuss the eight-year conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Yet fears of a major war continued to grow, as Russia added to its force of some 100,000 troops close to Ukraine and launched naval drills in the Black Sea, and Moscow’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said it would take “appropriate response measures” if it was not satisfied with the outcome of security talks with the West.

US deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman said she had “no idea” whether Russian president Vladimir Putin had decided his course of action on Ukraine, “but we certainly see every indication that he is going to use military force sometime, perhaps [between] now and the middle of February.

“We all are aware that the Beijing [Winter] Olympics are beginning on February 4th, the opening ceremony, and president Putin expects to be there. I think that probably [Chinese] president Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine . . . So that may affect his timing and his thinking.”

Washington’s embassy in Kyiv urged “US citizens in Ukraine to consider departing now”, warning that the “security situation in Ukraine continues to be unpredictable due to the increased threat of Russian military action and can deteriorate with little notice”.

Moscow insists it is not planning to launch a new attack on Ukraine – where it annexed Crimea in 2014 and fomented a war in the eastern Donbas region that has now claimed 14,000 lives.

‘Military-technical’

Amid a major build-up of its forces near Ukraine and in neighbouring Belarus, however, Russia has said it will respond with “military-technical” measures if Nato does not agree to its main security demands: that Nato bar accession to Ukraine and other new members and withdraw its own troops from the region.

“We will not permit any attempts to enmesh our initiative in endless discussion,” Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday.

“If there is no constructive response and the West continues its aggressive line, then . . . Moscow will take appropriate response measures.”

The Kremlin has also denounced accelerating deliveries of weapons to Kyiv by the US, Britain and other Nato states.

Ukraine insists that no major military attack is imminent, and its foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said Russia’s forces near the border were “still missing some key military elements and systems to mount a big, full-scale offensive”.

“We see a scenario of destabilisation of Ukraine and that scenario is imminent, it’s already taking place – by spreading panic, by putting pressure on Ukraine’s financial system, by conducting cyberattacks against Ukraine,” he added.

“I am certain president Putin would be happy to see this plan succeed so he doesn’t even have to resort to military force to put Ukraine in an extremely vulnerable position.”