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U.S. says Russian invasion of Ukraine could begin "at any time"

U.S. warns Russia may invade Ukraine within days
U.S. warns Russia may invade Ukraine within days 03:22

Russia now has 80% of the forces in place that would be needed to begin a full-scale invasion, compared to 70% exactly a week ago, a U.S. official tells CBS News. The continuing buildup is one reason the Biden administration is now warning an invasion can come within days.

"We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House briefing Friday. "As we've said before, we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time, should Vladimir Putin decide to order it." 

Not every soldier must be in place in order to begin an invasion, or for cyber and air strikes to begin. There are other factors that concern the administration, too: one is the scheduling of live-fire exercises in the Black Sea beginning on February 13. They could serve as a rolling start to an invasion from the south.

There is also the rescheduling of a nuclear exercise which usually takes place in the fall but was moved to the middle of February. 

Amid the growing U.S. concern about the possibility Russia will invade Ukraine, President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will be speaking on Saturday morning. 

The administration is urging Americans still in Ukraine to leave as soon as possible — within 24 to 48 hours at the most. Sullivan would not comment on the details of the U.S. intelligence information but he said of a potential invasion, "I do want to be clear: It could begin during the Olympics, despite a lot of speculation that it would only happen after the Olympics." 

The Winter Olympics, which are being held in China, end on February 20. Sullivan stressed that Americans who remain in Ukraine are at risk, and the U.S. military will not enter the country to extract them, should Russia invade. There are about 7,000 U.S. citizens and green card holders in Ukraine registered with the embassy, but an estimated 23,000 to 30,000 Americans reside there, according to a congressional aide. 

For weeks, the Biden administration has been asking American citizens to leave Ukraine. The U.S. believes a Russian attack could begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks, followed by a ground invasion of troops. 

"The president will not be putting the lives of our men and women in uniform at risk by sending them into a war zone to rescue people who could have left by now, but chose not to," Sullivan said. 

According to the U.S. official, the administration is worried that Americans in Ukraine are not heeding the State Department warnings — which was one of the main reasons Sullivan briefed Friday. This official said that Sullivan's warning to get out within 24-48 hours was meant to impart a sense of urgency; it was not a prediction that a Russian invasion would come within 48 hours.  

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday ordered 3,000 troops based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland, according to a senior defense official. The troops are expected to leave over the next couple days and be in place by early next week. That's in addition to 2,000 U.S. troops that have already been deployed from the U.S. to the region, as well as troops already stationed in Europe who are being repositioned. 

President Biden convened a virtual call Friday morning with the leaders of Canada, major European allies, and the heads of NATO and the European Commission to discuss concerns that Russia continues to mass troops and military equipment around Ukraine. While the leaders have universally objected to Putin's military buildup, their views differ on what Putin's intentions are. Russia has insisted it won't start a war, but at the same time, it won't allow its interests to be ignored. 

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley spoke by phone Friday with his Russian counterpart Chief of Russian General Staff General Valery Gerasimov, the Pentagon said in a statement, though it declined to share any of the contents of their conversation.

Late Thursday, President Biden convened a Situation Room meeting to discuss the Russian military deployments with top security advisers, according to people familiar with the meeting. 

Also on Thursday, Mr. Biden used an NBC News interview to warn Americans in Ukraine to "leave now." 

"We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It's a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly," the president said.

The flurry of diplomatic activity comes as Russia has deployed six warships to the Black Sea, restricting, if not completely cutting off Ukraine's naval access and increasing the number of Russian forces now encompassing the former Soviet republic.  

— CBS News' Christina Ruffini, Eleanor Watson and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report 

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