US President Joe Biden on Thursday said the risk of a further Russian invasion of Ukraine is “very high” as tensions between Moscow and the West continue to rise over the Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s Eastern frontier.
Speaking to reporters at the White House as he prepared to board Marine One, Mr Biden said Russia’s claim to have started removing troops from the Ukrainian border were false.
“The risk is very high because they have not moved their troops out — they have moved more troops in,” Mr Biden said.
He added that the US “has reason to believe” that Russia is “engaged in a false flag operation to have an excuse to go in”.
“Every indication we have is that they are prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine,” Mr Biden continued, adding that he believes an invasion will happen “in the next several days”.
Mr Biden’s comments came just after the Russian government expelled US deputy chief of mission Bartle Gorman from the country and made further demands as a precondition to end the ongoing crisis.
A State Department spokesperson told The Independent Mr Gorman’s expulsion was “unprovoked” and said the US is “considering our response” to what it called “an escalatory step”.
The spokesperson also noted that his tour had not ended, he was in Russia on a valid visa, and had been there less than three years.
“We call on Russia to end its baseless expulsions of U.S. diplomats and staff and to work productively to rebuild our missions. Now more than ever, it is critical that our countries have the necessary diplomatic personnel in place to facilitate communication between our governments,” the spokesperson said.
Mr Gorman, a veteran foreign service officer who recently served as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Director for Threat Investigations and Analysis for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, was ordered out of the country as Moscow delivered a diplomatic note to the US outlining demands in response to security proposals from Washington.
According to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti, Moscow is demanding the US halt all arms deliveries to Ukraine, remove defensive arms already provided to Ukrainian forces, and push Kiev to heed the Minsk agreements setting out a cease-fire against Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
Moscow is also demanding a withdrawal of all US forces from Central and Eastern Europe, RIA reported.
The latest set of demands from Russian president Vladimir Putin’s government are unlikely to receive a positive response from Washington, withdrawing American troops from Central and Eastern Europe would break what Mr Biden has called America’s “ironclad” commitment to Nato’s mutual defence obligations.