MOSCOW/KYIV: Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to attack Ukraine within days. U.S. President Joe Biden declared on Friday after separatists supported by Moscow ordered civilians to flee the breakaway areas on buses in a move that the West suspects are an excuse for an attack.
As part of one of the biggest post-Cold war crises, Russia wants to stop Kyiv from becoming a member of NATO. It is accusing the West of being a hysterical nation, saying there is no intention to invade.
In contrast, NATO and its allies, the United States, and allies are insistent that the military build-up goes on.
Warning sirens were blaring in Donetsk and Luhansk on Friday following the announcement by rebel leaders in the region declared the evacuation from the cities of hundreds of thousands to Russia.
“We have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week, in the coming days,” Biden informed journalists in the White House, adding that Kyiv is a possible potential target.
“As of this moment, I am convinced that he has made the decision.”
On Friday night, the Ukrainian military intelligence agency said Russian Special Forces had planted explosives inside infrastructures for social purposes in Donetsk and advised residents to remain at home. According to the Russian Federal Security Service did not respond immediately to a request for clarification.
In a report by correspondents in the field, Russian news agencies later said that two explosions struck Luhansk, one of the major cities in Ukraine’s independent People’s Republic of Luhansk, and a portion of a gas pipeline within the region caught the flames.
In the past, separatist leaders from Donetsk and Luhansk released video declarations that announced the evacuations and accused Ukraine of being prepared to attack the two regions shortly – an untrue assertion that Kyiv claimed.
However, one video appears to be made on Wednesday, before the latest flare-up of shelling started according to metadata that was embedded into the footage. This raised concerns in Western analysts, even though it could be altered.
In response to questions about the evacuations, White House press secretary Jen Psaki declared that they’re the “good example” of what Washington has to be afraid of.
“We have long predicted for all of you that the Russians would take part in pretexts or steps that would lay a predicate for either war or to create confusion or spread misinformation on the ground,” she informed reporters.
A few hours after the evacuation announcement, the jeep was destroyed outside an office building for rebels in Donetsk.
Reporters saw the vehicle being surrounded by shrapnel. They also saw an object that was damaged in the blast. Russian media reported that an official from the separatist movement owned it.
Many families from the Russian-speaking region have received citizenship from Moscow. In a matter of hours, many were getting on buses at the evacuated point located in Donetsk, the city, where authorities stated that 700,000 people would be evacuated.
Irina Lysanova, 22, told me she packed to travel with her elderly mother. “Mama is a panicker,” she admitted. Her father, Konstantin, who is 62, was not planning to go. “This is my motherland,” Konstantin said.
The evacuation started when the conflict zone witnessed what some sources described as the largest artillery shelling in decades on Friday.
Ukraine has been the most significant and most devastating loss to Russia of the former republics of 14 that it controlled before the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
A crowd of people is seen inside the bus arranged to evacuate residents in the city controlled by rebels in Donetsk, Ukraine, on February 18, 2022.
Russian-backed rebels took over a large portion of the eastern part of Ukraine during 2014 when Moscow took over Ukrainian’s Crimea region. Kyiv claims that more than 14,000 have been killed since the east conflict.
As the Kremlin displays its military capabilities on various fronts, Putin had the task of overseeing exercises for its nuclear strategic missile forces on Saturday.
‘SHOOTING EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING’
Russia has released video footage that shows it is removing soldiers from its border. However, the United States instead believes there was a surge of between 169,000 and 190,000 troops, up from the 100,000 troops at the end of January.
New helicopters and an army of armored personnel carriers and support equipment have been deployed in Russia near the border, according to the U.S.-based Maxar Technologies, which monitors developments using satellite images.
The Kremlin has thousands of troops participating in Belarus, the north of Ukraine, which is scheduled to close on Sunday. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko met Putin on Friday and said that the troops could stay all the time.
Western countries are worried about an unprecedented conflict in Europe since the Yugoslav and Chechen wars in the 1990s, during which thousands of people suffered losses and millions left.
The evacuation added further pressure on Russia’s currency rouble and other investments.
A diplomat with years of knowledge of the war described Friday’s bombardment as the most intense ever since the significant battles were ended in 2015 with a ceasefire. “They are shooting – everyone and everything.”
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated that she did not believe a full-scale invasion was possible.
However, she said that Russia might carry out an attempted coup in Ukraine, attack infrastructure critical to the country, or trigger violence. Then, it could be blamed for Kyiv.
Kyiv added that an all-out attack was unlikely.
Since the demise of a pro-Russian President, Ukraine has staged joint military exercises in conjunction with NATO and received weapons, including U.S. Javelin missiles and Turkish drones.
Putin believes that Ukraine’s growing connections with the NATO alliance could be an ideal launchpad for missiles that target Russia.
As the crisis deteriorates and the situation worsens, as the problem gets worse, the West is also considering alternatives that are not military.
The ban on Russia entirely from the SWIFT financial system isn’t likely to be part of an initial sanctions plan should there be an attack on the country, one White House official said on Friday.
The allies’ response to threats beyond an outright attack is not a consensus, the U.S. and European officials have said amid differences between the EU.
“Those closest to Russia, such as Hungary, will be against any sanctions short of a military invasion,” according to a top diplomat.