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UPDATED: White House says Russia could invade Ukraine at any time

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Alexei Nikolsky\TASS via Getty Images

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Friday that U.S. officials believe a Russian invasion of Ukraine is imminent, pending a decision by Russian President Vladimir Putin to pull the trigger on war.

"We continue to see signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border. As we've said before, we are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time should Vladimir Putin decide to order it," Sullivan said during a White House press briefing.

The briefing was held shortly after PBS foreign affairs and defense correspondent Nick Schifrin reported that U.S. officials were certain that Putin has decided to invade Ukraine and has communicated that decision to the Russian military.

Sullivan declined to comment on the details of U.S. intelligence information.

"I do want to be clear, [an invasion] could begin during the Olympics despite a lot of speculation that it would only happen after the Olympics," Sullivan said. "As we've said before, we are ready either way. We are ready to continue results-oriented diplomacy that addresses the security concerns of the United States, Russia and Europe, consistent with our values and with the principle of reciprocity. We've continued to make that clear to Russia in close coordination with our European allies and partners.

"We are also ready to respond decisively alongside those allies and partners should Russia choose to take military action," he added, warning that the U.S. and its western allies would impose "severe sanctions" against Russia in response to war.

The warning comes after Schifrin said Friday that six Western and defense officials told him the U.S. expects the invasion to begin next week.

"US officials anticipate a horrific, bloody campaign that begins with two days or aerial bombardment and electronic warfare, followed by an invasion, with the possible goal of regime change," Schifrin reports.

Sullivan emphasized to reporters that the U.S. government does not believe Putin has made a "final decision."

"I want to be crystal clear though, we are not saying that a decision has been taken, a final decision has been taken by President Putin. What we are saying is that we have a sufficient level of concern based on what we are seeing on the ground and what our intelligence analysts have picked up that we are sending this clear message," Sullivan said.

He warned Russia against invading Ukraine.

"If Russia proceeds, its long term power and influence will be diminished, not enhanced, by an invasion. It will face a more determined transatlantic community. It will have to make more concessions to China. It will face massive pressure on its economy and export controls that will erode its defense industrial base, and it will face a wave of condemnation from around the world," Sullivan said.

He also repeated President Joe Biden's warning to Americans remaining in Ukraine and Russia to flee both nations, reiterating that in the event of war there will be "no prospect" of a U.S. military evacuation of American citizens.

"American citizens should leave now," Biden said in an interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt on Thursday.

“It’s not like we’re dealing with a terrorist organization. We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It’s a very different situation, and things could go crazy quickly,” he said.

Israel's Foreign Ministry on Friday also issued a travel warning for Ukraine and announced that embassy workers and the families of Israeli diplomats stationed in the country will be evacuated in anticipation of war, the Times of Israel reports.

A senior Israeli official reportedly said that Russia has amassed enough troops on Ukraine's borders to begin an invasion at any time.

“The Russians began a military exercise in Belarus that may soon become an offensive against Ukraine,” the unnamed official told Walla news.

Russia has placed more than 100,000 troops near Ukraine's borders. Putin has publicly denied having plans to invade, but has issued warnings to western powers to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet block nations out of NATO.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Feb. 11, 2022 at 2:32 p.m. ET after the White House briefed reporters on the situation in Ukraine.

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