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The United States warns against a ‘terrible’ Russian invasion of Ukraine

U.S. military and defense chiefs on Friday added their voices to sharp warnings that Russia may be invading Ukraine, while the president of the former Soviet republic individually worked to reassure its citizens and criticized the United States for sounding the alarm.

"War is not inevitable," said a General Mark A. Milley with a stone face, the country's most senior military official. But, he added, "given the type of forces lined up ... if it were unleashed on Ukraine, it would be significant, very significant, and it would result in a significant amount of casualties."

A military action would be "horrific" if Russian troops were to penetrate dense urban areas in the middle of winter, he said.

Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stood with Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III at a Pentagon press conference. Their joint speech to the media marked the Biden administration's efforts to send messages of unity to NATO and of the painful consequences for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The last time the two appeared together in such a forum was last year during the fall of Afghanistan and a rapid withdrawal of US troops, ending a 20-year war.

Both Austin and Milley said a Russian invasion could be averted by diplomatic efforts. But they said Putin's gathering of more than 100,000 Russian troops at Ukraine's borders gives the former KGB officer "a number of options" to pursue.

"Although we do not believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine," Austin said, "he clearly has that ability now."

Troops on alert

The United States has put 8,500 of its troops on alert, capable of deploying to NATO's eastern flank - not to Ukraine itself - quickly. President Biden told reporters Friday night that he would move troops to Eastern Europe "in the near future." The United States and other NATO countries have sent millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine, where the United States has sent $ 650 million in the past year, according to Austin.

Milley noted that Ukraine's military is more capable now than it was in 2014, when Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula and threw its support behind separatist fighters in two eastern Ukrainian regions.

He and Austin listed a number of tactics that Putin could use in relation to a military invasion, including a destabilizing sabotage campaign or an attempt to carry out a coup. Putin could try to replace Ukraine's elected president or recognize breakaway regions in the country to weaken the grip of the central government, which Moscow has tried in the east, Milley and Austin said.

Moscow is already suspected of numerous cyber attacks inside Ukraine and intense disinformation campaigns aimed at undermining the government in Kiev.

"We remain focused on Russian disinformation, including the potential creation of pretexts for further invasion or attack," on the eastern Donbas region, Austin said. "This is straight out of the Russian handbook. They are not fooling us."

Leaders and top diplomats from the United States and Europe have spent weeks trying to talk Putin out of invading Ukraine.

The Russians insisted that Washington and NATO provide a written response to Moscow's demands, first and foremost that Ukraine be never allowed to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Western officials handed in the letter this week, but flatly rejected the proposal, insisting that all countries should be allowed to apply for NATO membership.

Putin and Macron

Russian President Vladimir Putin is listening to French President Emmanuel Macron, who is appearing on a big screen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, listens to French President Emmanuel Macron during a video conference on Friday.

(Mikhail Klimentyev / Associated Press)

Putin spoke on Friday with French President Emmanuel Macron in the latest round of diplomacy aimed at easing tensions. The exchange was tense, French media reported. The Kremlin said Putin complained to Macron that the United States and NATO had not taken his demands seriously.

The Kremlin also said Putin called on the West to tell Ukraine that it had to negotiate with the separatists - a proposal that is unlikely to be edible in Kiev or among allies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated his government's position that there are no plans to invade Ukraine. But he also said that due to the US and NATO response to Moscow's position, "I do not see any room for compromise here."

"There will not be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation; we do not want a war," he told Russian radio, "but we will not let our interests be grossly trampled on and ignored."

Russia on Friday portrayed a meeting of the UN Security Council scheduled for Monday as a PR ploy. The Council will discuss what US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield described as Russia's "threatening behavior." As one of five permanent members of the Security Council, Russia can veto any resolution it adopts.

Pushback from Ukraine

After Biden spoke with his Ukrainian counterpart on Thursday - warning of the "clear possibility" of a Russian invasion, according to the White House - President Volodymyr Zelensky said he appreciated Western support but warned against panicking over an invasion, he said. office. Officials in Kiev are worried that talk of war will trigger flight for both people and capital.

Zelensky held a press conference on Friday in Kiev with locally based international media to ask for help in allaying fears.

"We do not need this panic," Zelensky said. “There are signals even from respected leaders of states; they just say that tomorrow there will be war. This is panic. How much does it cost our state? ”

Zelensky criticized the United States and a few other Western countries for starting to remove diplomatic personnel or their families from Kiev. These actions are premature, he said, adding: "Ukraine is not the Titanic."

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