SULAIMANI (ESTA) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine within days, U.S. President Joe Biden said on Friday, after 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.
“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 told reporters at the White House.
“At this moment, I am convinced that he has made the decision,” he added.
His remarks came after separatists backed by Russia told civilians to leave breakaway regions on buses, a move the West fears is part of a pretext for an attack.
Late on Friday, Ukraine’s military intelligence said Russian special forces had planted explosives at social infrastructure facilities in Donetsk, and it urged residents to stay at home, according to Reuters.
Citing correspondents on the ground, Russian news agencies later reported that two explosions hit Luhansk, one of the main cities in Ukraine’s breakaway People’s Republic of Luhansk, and a section of a gas pipeline in the area caught fire, Reuters reported.
Separatist leaders in Donetsk and Luhansk issued video statements in which they announced the evacuations and accused Ukraine of preparing to attack both regions soon – an accusation Kyiv said was false.
But at least one of the videos appeared to have been created on Wednesday before the latest flare-up in shelling began, according to metadata, embedded in the footage, Reuters said.
Meanwhile, AP reported that metadata from two videos posted by the separatists show that the files were created two days ago.
That raised suspicions among Western analysts although it can be overwritten.
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, AP reported.
He said the U.S. and its Western allies were more united than ever to ensure Russia pays a price for the invasion.
Also Friday, the U.S. government released new estimates of how many military personnel Russia has in and around Ukraine, according to AP. It said there are between 169,000 and 190,000 personnel, up from about 100,000 on Jan. 30.
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.