Biden expects Russia to invade Ukraine in "next several days"
President Biden told reporters Thursday that his "sense" is that Russia will invade Ukraine "within the next several days," as troops and supplies continue to arrive at the border and international monitors report shelling across the line of contact in eastern Ukraine.
The latest: "Every indication that we have is that they are prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine," Biden said, warning that the risk is "very high." He added that there is still a "path to diplomacy," but that he has no plans to reach out to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
- Russia expelled U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Bart Gorman from the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the State Department confirmed Thursday morning, and warned that it would take unspecified "military-technical" steps in response to the U.S. failure to address its security demands on issues like NATO expansion.
- News of the expulsion came around the same time that Russia provided its written responses to the latest security proposals by the U.S., in which Moscow insisted "there is no 'Russian invasion of Ukraine'" and that its proposals for a freeze on NATO expansion were "ignored."
Driving the news: Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a last-minute decision to speak at a meeting of the UN Security Council on Thursday, after the Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatists accused each other of opening fire in the war-torn Donbas region. Ukraine claims a kindergarten was struck, but no one was killed.
Between the lines: The Biden administration believes that Russia's increasingly alarming rhetoric about the situation in eastern Ukraine — including allegations that Kyiv is committing "genocide" against ethnic Russians — may be laying the groundwork for a false pretext to invade.
- The Russian Mission to the UN circulated a document Wednesday night that it called "a joint project of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation and RT News Channel," which alleges that war crimes have been committed in eastern Ukraine, according to a senior administration official.
- "Each of these allegations are categorically false," the official said, warning that Russia may use Thursday's UN Security Council meeting to further build a pretext for war.
What's happening: Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which observes ceasefire violations in the conflict in eastern Ukraine that broke out in 2014, said there were roughly 500 explosions along the line of contact on Thursday morning.
- Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russian-backed forces shelled a kindergarten in the Ukrainian-controlled town of Stanytsia Luhanska, calling it "a big provocation."
- Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Ukrainian government forces of preparing a major offensive against separatist-controlled territory, which Kyiv has denied.
The big picture: U.S. officials say that Russia is lying about withdrawing its troops from near Ukraine, and that more than 7,000 troops have arrived near the border in recent days.
- The Biden administration continues to insist that Russia is plotting a "false pretext" to invade Ukraine, and increasingly believes it will be related to the conflict in Donbas.
- Putin claimed Wednesday that Ukraine is committing "genocide" in Donbas, and Russian media has aired footage purporting to show secret mass graves of civilians. Ukraine and its Western allies say the allegations are false.
What they're saying: "The evidence on the ground is that Russia is moving toward an imminent invasion. This is a crucial moment," said U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who invited Blinken to speak at the UN before his trip to Europe this weekend.
- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a press conference in Munich on Thursday that the U.S. has observed Russian troops "inching closer" to Ukraine's border and "stocking up their blood supplies." Russia has also prepared field hospitals.
- In response to the constant efforts by the U.S. to expose alleged Russian plots to attack Ukraine, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West on Thursday of "information terrorism."
- Moscow continues to deny any intention to invade, and announced Thursday that more troops would be relocating away from the border.