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Russian forces on Ukraine border ‘literally ready to go now,’ U.S. official warns

Russian military forces arrayed around Ukraine have reached a point where “they are literally ready to go now, if they get the order to go,” a senior Defense Department official warned Wednesday.

Around 80 percent of the forces the U.S. estimates Russia would need to launch a large invasion of Ukraine are in place, including ground, air and sea assets. “They have uncoiled,” said the official, who spoke with reporters anonymously in order to describe military assessments.

The view from Washington that Russia intends to launch a major invasion has remained the same for much of the past week, but the new comments underscore how immediate the Biden administration thinks the threat is.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday he intends to implement a 30-day state of emergency in the country, if the legislative Rada approves. He also plans to call up military reservists in the wake of Russia recognizing two separatist regions in the east as independent.

The leadership in Kyiv has been more reluctant than its Western allies to say publicly they expect an attack from Russia, but Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the breakaway territories has appeared to spark a sense of urgency in the capital. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba warned the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday that “the beginning of a large-scale war in Ukraine will be the end of the world order as we know it.”

The Pentagon isn’t yet ready to offer its assessment as to whether Russian troops have crossed the border into the breakaway Luhansk and Donetsk regions, citing ongoing intelligence analysis. But Putin said Monday night he was sending troops into the areas.

Shelling in both Luhansk and Donetsk has increased steadily, with Russian state media blaming the Ukrainian military. Yet Ukrainian government officials who visited the area over the weekend were repeatedly shelled by Russian-back insurgents.

Russia has sent more than 150,000 troops to the Ukraine border, from Belarus in the north to Crimea and the Black Sea to the south. Two areas of particular concern are the cities of Kharkiv near the Russian border, and Mariupol on the Sea of Avov near Crimea.

The number of Russian troops has increased, and forces are backed by tanks, mobile rocket artillery, and attack helicopters near Belgorod just over the border from Kharkiv over the past week.

In the south, Russia has several ships armed with cruise missiles capable of hitting targets inland, and about 10 amphibious ships that can land troops ashore.

“Mr. Putin has at his disposal right now everything from significant offensive missile capability to offensive ground power,” the DoD official said. “He has more than two dozen warships in the Black Sea. The majority of them are surface combatants. He has a cruise missile capability, he’s got ballistic missile capability, he’s got armor, artillery, infantry, he’s got special forces,” all poised to move.

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