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Ukraine crisis: Biden urges Americans to leave

February 11, 2022

The US president said "things could go crazy quickly" as NATO raised the alarm of Russian live-fire drills in Belarus. Biden warned the US would not carry out an evacuation of its citizens in the event of conflict.

Joe Biden
Joe Biden said he would not be sending US troops to UkraineImage: Alex Brandon/AP/picture alliance

President Joe Biden has urged US citizens to leave Ukraine immediately as fears over a possible Russian invasion mount."American citizens should leave now," Biden said in a pre-recorded interview with NBC News Thursday evening.

'Things could go crazy quickly'

"We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world. It's a very different situation and things could go crazy quickly," Biden said. 

The president reiterated that under no circumstances would he be sending troops to Ukraine to evacuate US citizens in the event of a conflict. 

"That's a world war. When Americans and Russians start shooting one another, we're in a very different world," he said.

On Friday, both Japan and the Netherlands followed Biden's lead, urging all of their citizens to leave Ukraine immediately.

Ukraine, however, insists nothing has changed and that there is no need for anyone to leave the country.

Tensions between the West and Russia are increasing, with some US estimates claiming 130,000 Russian soldiers are located near the border with Ukraine.

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Blinken: An invasion could begin at any time

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Friday that Russia could launch an invasion at any time.

He said Washington was continuing to "draw down" its embassy in Ukraine and reiterated Biden's call for US citizens to leave Ukraine.

"Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border," Blinken told a news conference in Melbourne, Australia.

"As we've said before, we're in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics."

The Beijing Winter Olympics began on February 4, ending 16 days later.

Blinken is in Australia to "reaffirm the importance" of alliances in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as "the US-Australia bilateral relationship," Washington's top diplomat tweeted.

NATO: Biggest military drills since Cold War

Biden and Blinken's remarks were released just hours after Russian and Belarusian forces embarked upon a 10-day large-scale military exercise in Belarus, drawing an ominous warning from NATO.

The alliance described the live-fire drills as Russia's biggest military operation in Belarus since the Cold War.

NATO said Moscow's deployment of missiles and heavily-armored troops marked a "dangerous moment" for Europe some three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Stoltenberg: "We can deploy more forces on short notice if needed"

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that the drills were being held for the "military security of both countries and the fight against terrorism."

Meanwhile, the US military's most senior uniformed leader spoke with the head of the Belarusian armed forces. 

US General Mark Milley spoke to his Belarusian counterpart, Maj. Gen. Viktor Gulevich, on Thursday, the Pentagon said.

"The phone call facilitated communication between both leaders to reduce chances of miscalculation and gain perspectives on current European security," the Pentagon confirmed.

On Friday, the UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace visited Moscow and confirmed that the UK has always had open lines of communication with Moscow, noting that they are tested daily.

Wallace added that he takes it seriously when Russian defense chief Sergei Shoigu said Russia would not invade Ukraine. The British secretary said an invasion would have tragic consequences.

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NATO: US military in Romania protects Europe

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that the presence of US soldiers in Romania demonstrated the United States' commitment to keeping Europe safe, as more troops arrived at an airbase.

Speaking alongside Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, Stoltenberg, who will step down from his role at the alliance later this year, reiterated his concerns about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, adding that NATO would consider a longer-term mission in south-eastern Europe in the coming months.

"We continue to reinforce our eastern flank," Stoltenberg said, stressing that NATO's actions were defensive.

Diplomatic overtures

A concerted diplomatic effort to reduce tensions has been occurring in recent weeks, with frequent visits from leaders and top diplomats to both Moscow and Kyiv.

Within the space of just a few days this past week, Ukraine's capital has played host to leaders from the United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland and the Netherlands.

And Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock promised unequivocal support for Ukraine on Monday as she visited Kyiv for the second time in three weeks.

While French President Emmanuel Macron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban have both visited the Russian capital recently for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in an effort to gauge the political temperature. Macron said he was in Moscow to "to avoid war and build trust."

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss was the latest diplomat to visit Moscow as she met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday.

jsi/wmr (AFP, Reuters)