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    U.S. officials say Russia is preparing for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine


    Russia has stepped up preparations for a full-scale offensive in Ukraine, but it is unclear whether Moscow has decided to take such a step, U.S. officials said, citing intelligence assessments.

    Russia has deployed 110,000 troops along the border with its western neighbor, but U.S. intelligence has not determined whether President Vladimir Putin actually decided to attack, according to officials briefing members of Congress and European allies in recent days.

    Officials have warned lawmakers that Russian forces on the border are growing at a rate that would give Putin the strength needed to launch a full-scale offensive – about 150,000 troops – by mid-February.

    They said Putin wanted all possible options for his settlement: from limited propaganda to full-scale attacks in the pro-Russian Donbass region of Ukraine. Russia has denied any involvement in the attack. If Moscow decides to launch a full-scale offensive, the invading forces could seize the capital, Kiev, and oust President Volodymyr Zelensky within 48 hours, officials said.

    They estimate that such an attack would kill 25,000 to 50,000 civilians, 5,000 to 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 3,000 to 10,000 Russian soldiers. It could also trigger a refugee flood of one to five million people, mainly in Poland, officials added.

    Special forces

    President Joe Biden has decided to send US troops to Poland to protect NATO members, as diplomats work hard to persuade Russia to withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian border.

    The first contingent of U.S. troops arrived Saturday. Russia has also announced that it is pursuing a joint military strategy with Belarus, which has sent several battalions north of Kiev and in the Brest region, far from the Polish border.

    U.S. intelligence has concluded that Russia is planning to deploy a large military force along its border with Ukraine. Two weeks ago, a total of 60 Russian army battalions were stationed north, east and south of Ukraine, especially on the Crimean peninsula, which Russia annexed after the 2014 invasion.

    On Friday, however, there were 80 battalions and 14 more from Russia moving elsewhere, U.S. officials said. They added that about 1,500 Russian special forces troops, known as Spetsnaz, had arrived at the Ukrainian border a week earlier.

    Navy assembly

    A large Russian navy equipped with five amphibious ships that could be used for landing troops off the southern coast of Ukraine is also stationed in the Black Sea, U.S. officials said.

    They added that six more amphibians have been spotted leaving the Barents Sea north of Russia, on the British side and via the Strait of Gibraltar, apparently on their way to the Black Sea.

    At other installations, Russia has deployed warplanes near Ukraine, as well as bombers, missile batteries and anti-aircraft batteries, U.S. officials say. On Thursday, the United States said it had evidence that Russia was preparing a video depicting a bogus attack on Ukraine that would serve as an excuse for a genuine Russian attack on Ukraine.

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