AP

Biden is ‘convinced’ Putin has decided to invade Ukraine

Feb 18, 2022, 8:45 PM
President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 18,...
President Joe Biden speaks about Ukraine in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday that he is “convinced” Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, including an assault on the capital, as tensions spiked along the country’s militarized line with attacks that the West said could be “false-flag” operations meant to establish a pretext for invasion.

A humanitarian convoy was hit by shelling, and pro-Russian rebels evacuated civilians from the conflict zone. A car bombing hit the eastern city of Donetsk, but no casualties were reported.

After weeks of saying the U.S. wasn’t sure if Putin had made the final decision to invade, Biden said that assessment had changed, citing American intelligence.

“As of this moment I’m convinced he’s made the decision,” Biden said. “We have reason to believe that.” He reiterated that the assault could occur in the “coming days.”

Meanwhile, the Kremlin announced massive nuclear drills to flex its military muscle, and Putin pledged to protect Russia’s national interests against what it sees as encroaching Western threats.

Biden reiterated his threat of massive economic and diplomatic sanctions against Russia if it does invade, and pressed Putin to rethink his course of action. He said the U.S. and its Western allies were more united than ever to ensure Russia pays a price for the invasion.

With an estimated 150,000 Russian troops posted around Ukraine’s borders, U.S. and European officials warn that the long-simmering separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine could provide the spark for a broader attack.

As further indication that the Russians are preparing for a potential invasion, a U.S. defense official said an estimated 40% to 50% of the ground forces deployed in the vicinity of the Ukrainian border have moved into attack positions nearer the border. That shift has been under way for about a week, other officials have said, and does not necessarily mean Putin has decided to begin an invasion. The defense official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal U.S. military assessments.

The official also said the number of Russian ground units known as battalion tactical groups deployed in the border area had grown to as many as 125, up from 83 two weeks ago. Each battalion tactical group has 750 to 1,000 soldiers.

Lines of communication remain open: The U.S. and Russian defense chiefs spoke Friday, and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for de-escalation, the return of Russian forces surrounding Ukraine to their home bases and a diplomatic resolution, according to the Pentagon. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to meet next week.

Immediate worries focused on eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting pro-Russia rebels since 2014 in a conflict that has killed some 14,000 people.

A bombing struck a car outside the main government building in the major eastern city of Donetsk, according to an Associated Press journalist there. The head of the separatist forces, Denis Sinenkov, said the car was his, the Interfax news agency reported.

There were no reports of casualties and no independent confirmation of the circumstances of the blast. Uniformed men inspected the burned-out car.

Shelling and shooting are common along the line that separates Ukrainian forces and the rebels, but targeted violence is unusual in rebel-held cities like Donetsk.

However, the explosion and the announced evacuations were in line with U.S. warnings of so-called false-flag attacks that Russia would use to justify an invasion.

Adding to the tensions, two explosions shook the rebel-controlled city of Luhansk early Saturday. The Luhansk Information Center said one of the blasts was in a natural gas main and cited witnesses as saying the other was at a vehicle service station. There was no immediate word on injuries or a cause. Luhansk officials blamed a gas main explosion earlier in the week on sabotage.

Separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions that form Ukraine’s industrial heartland known as the Donbas said they are evacuating civilians to Russia. The announcement appeared to be part of Moscow’s efforts to counter Western warnings of a Russian invasion and to paint Ukraine as the aggressor instead.

Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk rebel government, said women, children and the elderly would go first, and that Russia has prepared facilities for them. Pushilin alleged in a video statement that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was going to order an imminent offensive in the area.

Metadata from two videos posted by the separatists announcing the evacuation show that the files were created two days ago, The Associated Press confirmed. U.S. authorities have alleged that the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign could include prerecorded videos.

Authorities began moving children from an orphanage in Donetsk, and other residents boarded buses for Russia. Long lines formed at gas stations as more people prepared to leave on their own.

Putin ordered his emergencies minister to fly to the Rostov region bordering Ukraine to help organize the exodus and ordered the government to offer a payment of 10,000 rubles (about $130) to each evacuee, equivalent to about half of an average monthly salary in the war-ravaged Donbas.

Ukraine denied planning any offensive.

“We are fully committed to diplomatic conflict resolution only,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted.

Around the volatile line of contact, a United Nations humanitarian convoy came under rebel shelling in the Luhansk region, Ukraine’s military chief said. No casualties were reported. Rebels denied involvement and accused Ukraine of staging a provocation.

Separatist authorities reported more shelling by Ukrainian forces along the line. A surge of shelling Thursday tore through the walls of a kindergarten, injuring two, and basic communications were disrupted. Both sides accused each other of opening fire.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the threat to global security is “more complex and probably higher” than during the Cold War. He told the Munich conference that a small mistake or miscommunication between major powers could have catastrophic consequences.

Russia announced this week that it was pulling back forces from vast military exercises, but U.S. officials said they saw no sign of a pullback — and instead saw more troops moving toward the border with Ukraine.

Meanwhile, the White House and the U.K. formally accused Russia of being responsible for recent cyberattacks targeting Ukraine’s defense ministry and major banks. The announcement was the most pointed attribution of responsibility for the cyber intrusions.

Also Friday, the U.S. government released new estimates of how many military personnel Russia has in and around Ukraine. It said there are between 169,000 and 190,000 personnel, up from about about 100,000 on Jan. 30, according to Michael Carpenter, the permanent U.S. representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The new estimate includes military troops along the border, in Belarus and in occupied Crimea, as well as Russian National Guard and other internal security units, and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine. The separatists inside Ukraine, the National Guard and troops in Crimea were not included in the previous U.S. estimate of 150,000.

The Kremlin sent a reminder to the world of its nuclear might, announcing drills of its nuclear forces for the weekend. Putin will monitor the sweeping exercise Saturday that will involve multiple practice missile launches.

Asked about Western warnings of a possible Russian invasion on Wednesday that didn’t materialize, Putin said: “There are so many false claims, and constantly reacting to them is more trouble than it’s worth.”

“We are doing what we consider necessary and will keep doing so,” he said. “We have clear and precise goals conforming to national interests.”

Today’s Top Stories

AP

A female bison and calf are seen near the Yellowstone River in Wyoming's Hayden Valley, on Wednesda...
Mark Jones

2nd visitor in 3 days gored by Yellowstone National Park bison

In less than a week, two visitors to Yellowstone National Park have been gored by bison. Park officials say to stay at least 25 yards away from a bison.
2 days ago
Travelers wait in for a TSA security check at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles,...
DAVID KOENIG ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pre-pandemic sized crowds descend on US airports for holiday

TSA is reporting crowds of pre-pandemic size are traveling this Independence Day.
2 days ago
Residents stand in front of building destroyed by missiles in Ukraine...
FRANCESCA EBEL Associated Press

Russian missiles kill at least 19 in Ukraine’s Odesa region

The Ukrainian president's office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and a campsite.
2 days ago
Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the oath for the Supreme Court....
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Jackson sworn in, becomes 1st Black woman on Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court's 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires.
3 days ago
The Supreme Court is pictured. The court just limited the EPA...
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

The Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation's main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
3 days ago
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, ...
DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press

Biden says transatlantic alliance has adapted to new threats

Biden's comments came at a press conference in Madrid at the conclusion of the annual meeting of NATO leaders and after he attended a summit with the Group of Seven advanced democratic economies in the Bavarian Alps.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Biden is ‘convinced’ Putin has decided to invade Ukraine