(NEW YORK) — The United States is warning that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day” amid escalating tensions in the region.
As many as 150,000 Russian troops are estimated to be massed near Ukraine’s borders and U.S. officials have urged all Americans to leave the country.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday that the country was shuttering its embassy in Kyiv and “temporarily” relocating the small group of diplomats left in Ukraine to the western city of Lviv, citing the “rapid acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces.”
But Ukrainian officials have said they do not see signs of a Russian attack as soon as Wednesday — the date reportedly given to NATO allies — and called for a day of unity instead.
Russia has demanded the U.S. and NATO bar Ukraine from joining the military alliance and pull back troops from Eastern European member states, while denying it has plans to invade Ukraine.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Feb 15, 5:41 am
Ukraine reacts to Russia announcing withdrawal: ‘We’ll believe it when we see it’
Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba reacted to Russia’s announcement Tuesday that it is withdrawing some troops from the border, saying his country will “believe it when we see it.”
“There are constantly various statements coming from the Russian Federation, so we have a rule: we’ll believe it when we see it,” Kuleba said during a televised briefing Tuesday. “When we see the withdrawal, we’ll believe in de-escalation.”
Feb 15, 5:25 am
Russia says some troops will return to base
Some Russian troops positioned near the border with Ukraine will begin returning to their bases Tuesday after completing “exercises,” according to the Russian Ministry of Defense.
The units set to return are from Russia’s Southern and Western Military Districts, the defense ministry said Tuesday. But there are troops from other military districts massed on the border. Still, if some troops do pull back, it would potentially be a key signal that the crisis with Ukraine will not escalate.
Russian state media then released video purportedly showing tank troops loading up in neighboring Belarus to return home as well as tanks in southwestern Russia moving back. A spokesperson for Russia’s Southern Military District told state media Tuesday that some personnel have begun leaving Crimea for their permanent bases following the completion of drills.
In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and established two federal subjects there, the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. But the international community still recognizes the territories as being part of Ukraine.
Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday that the military exercises would end “in the near future.” There are still drills being conducted in neighboring Belarus as well as the Black Sea that are due to end Feb. 20.
Maria Zakharova, spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said in a post on her official Facebook page on Tuesday that Feb. 15 “will go down in history as the day the Western propoganda war failed.”
“Disgraced and destroyed without a single shot fired,” Zakharova added.
Feb 15, 4:29 am
White House warns invasion could start ‘at any time’
While the United States believes a path of diplomacy remains “open” to Russia, a White House official warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine “could begin at any time.”
Answering a question from ABC News’ Cecilia Vega during a press briefing Monday, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the U.S. government is so far seeing “more and more” Russian troops arrive on the border with Ukraine.
“In the past 10 days or so, when you look at what is happening at the border of Ukraine, there, we are seeing more than 100,000 troops there and it’s just been an every day more and more troops,” Jean-Pierre said.
“So we are certainly open to having conversations and seeing a de-escalation,” she added. “That door is open for diplomacy and this is up to President Putin. He has to make that decision. It is his decision to make on which direction he wants to take this.”
Jean-Pierre noted that “it remains unclear which path Russia will choose to take.”
When asked about the imminency of the situation, she said: “We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time.”
“I’m not going to comment on the intelligence information,” she added, “except to say that it could begin this week.”
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