The U.S. President Joe Biden's administration issued new warnings on Feb. 11 that Russia was poised to launch a further invasion of Ukraine at any moment, saying that it could happen within days.
The White House said it still wasn’t clear if Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a decision to further invade Ukraine, but acknowledged that the Kremlin has assembled all the needed elements to do so quickly.
"We obviously cannot predict the future, we don't know exactly what is going to happen,” U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said. “But the risk is now high enough and the threat is now immediate enough that this is what prudence demands."
The stark warning comes unexpectedly earlier than the previously projected timeframe for a potential military action against Ukraine, which many analysts believed was unlikely to start until the Winter Beijing Olympics in China end on Feb. 20.
The heightened U.S. fears followed new intelligence that showed a further increase in Russian troop build-up near Ukraine and the start of a major military exercise in neighboring Belarus.
Russia has massed around 135,000 troops around Ukraine and in its occupied areas in recent weeks. The Feb. 10-20 joint military drills of Russian and Belarusian forces have also begun in the western rim of Belarus, near Ukrainian borders, as well as near NATO’s eastern members Poland and Lithuania.
Sullivan warned that a renewed Russian assault on Ukraine could begin soon, and it could involve bombs and missiles. “It is likely to begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians,” the official said.
The warning was met with incredulity by some international observers both in Russia and the U.S.
"There's never been a time when my understanding of Russia – my 15 years of reporting on Russia and Ukraine – has been so at odds with what the U.S. government says about Russia and Ukraine," Simon Shuster, a Time magazine reporter, said on Twitter. "I hope I'm right, and they're wrong."
Both Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron are set to have separate phone calls with their Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Feb. 12.
Following the warning, the U.S. urged all American citizens to leave Ukraine within the next 48 hours.
Also on Feb. 11, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told CNN that Washington had ordered 3,000 more soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division to deploy to Poland, joining the 1,700 already there. The soldiers deployed there are set to help American citizens who may try to leave Ukraine, according to the U.S. media.
At least 11 embassies urged citizens to leave Ukraine immediately. The embassies of the U.S., U.K., Canada, Latvia, Denmark, Israel, Norway, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea, and Estonia called on their civilians to immediately leave Ukraine for safety measures.
Immediately after the Feb. 11 warning, U.S. citizens in Ukraine have started receiving phone calls urging them to leave the country.
The European Union also urged its non-essential diplomats to leave Kyiv as soon as possible.
The European Commission, meanwhile, said that it wasn’t evacuating staff from Ukraine despite the warnings from the U.S.