President Joe Biden‘s administration has informed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of intelligence assessing that Russia is preparing to conduct a full-scale invasion of the neighboring country within the next 48 hours, U.S. intelligence officials have revealed to Newsweek.
“The President of Ukraine has been warned Russia will highly likely begin an invasion within 48 hours based on U.S. intelligence,” the U.S. official with direct knowledge told Newsweek.
“Additionally,” the U.S. official added, “reporting from aircraft observers indicates Russia violated Ukrainian airspace earlier today, flying possible reconnaissance aircraft for a short period over Ukraine.”
A source close to Zelenskyy’s government also confirmed to Newsweek that such a warning was received.
The Pentagon‘s assessment includes Russian airstrikes, cruise missiles and ground invasion, according to the U.S. intelligence official.
The information was confirmed by a second U.S. intelligence official, who emphasized the comprehensive nature of the military operation the Pentagon anticipated from Russia.
The official told Newsweek that the invasion will include not only a push from the pro-Moscow rebel-held Donbas region in the east, where additional Russian units termed “peacekeepers” by Moscow were sent Monday, but also a major thrust toward the capital Kyiv from the northern border with Belarus, where Russian troops recently extended joint exercises with their ally.
The second U.S. official said that the operation would begin with a cyber attack, followed by a ground invasion that would likely occur at night. Both officials maintained, however, that Russia’s plans could change based on daily developments.
Another source who took part in a National Security Council call on Tuesday confirmed to Newsweek that the White House was “incredibly pessimistic” about this being limited to the Russia-endorsed rebel republics and that an invasion would likely occur in 24-48 hours.
Newsweek has reached out to the White House and Pentagon for comment.
Shortly after Newsweek was made aware of these U.S. assessments, the websites for Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, Foreign Ministry and other institutions abruptly went offline in what signaled a potential sweeping cyber attack, which would add to a series of apparent cyber assaults that the White House has publicly blamed on Moscow.
Newsweek also reported Monday after obtaining an FBI document that U.S. law enforcement has warned the U.S. private sector of a heightened potential of Russian state-sponsored cyber attacks against the United States.
Moscow has denied engaging in any hostile cyber activity and has accused Washington of exaggerating the likelihood of a conflict erupting over Ukraine, which has been at war for eight years with two Russia-aligned breakaway republics in Donbas. The self-proclaimed states were granted recognition Monday by Russian President Vladimir Putin in a move he argued was necessary to protect them from Ukrainian aggression.
No country has yet followed suit, and U.S. and Ukrainian officials have rejected the move as part of a pre-orchestrated plot to justify the deployment of Russian troops into the insurgent region and a potential larger-scale effort toward other parts of Ukraine.
The U.S. has been warning for weeks that Russia was in a position to conduct an invasion at any time amid an unprecedented military buildup near Ukraine’s borders, and Biden said Friday that he was “convinced” Putin had already made the decision to do so, though he noted “diplomacy is always a possibility.”
But after Monday’s events, the State Department and White House signaled that “in-principle” meetings scheduled between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as well as between Biden and Putin were no longer on the agenda.
In the two decades since first taking power at the beginning of the 21st century, Putin has criticized the eastward expansion of NATO toward Russia’s borders. In recent years he has emphasized demands for new security assurances limiting the U.S.-led alliance’s military activities in the region, and that Ukraine, as well as Georgia, be excluded from the bloc they seek to join.
But NATO has only doubled down on efforts to shore up its western flank after 2014 when an uprising brought to power a pro-West government in Ukraine, sparking the Donbas insurgency and Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula after a referendum rejected by Kyiv and its Western backers.
As Moscow sent waves of troops areas bordering Ukraine, including Belarus and Crimea, Russia began negotiations with the U.S. and NATO to seek a rollback of the coalition’s presence in line with a 1997 treaty established in the wake of the Cold War. But Washington and its allies have maintained that states were free to seek NATO membership, a position that, along with the collapse of longstanding bilateral arms control measures, Putin has repeatedly warned came as a threat to Russia’s own national security.
As Ukraine has not yet received NATO membership, the country does not fall under the alliance’s Article 5 triggering collective military action and Biden has said he had no plans to send U.S. troops to Ukraine, where Washington’s embassy and that of a number of other allied countries have been evacuated.
Rather, the U.S. and other NATO states have vowed sweeping, “severe” sanctions against Russia in response to any invasion of Ukraine, the first tranche of which were rolled out in the past couple days in response to Russia’s actions.
This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.