Amid ‘massive’ cyberattack on Ukraine, US warns of Russian invasion within 48 hours

Defense and foreign ministry websites taken down in attack, as predicted by US officials ahead of full-blown invasion, to include airstrikes, missiles and push to Kyiv

A woman walks by a photographic memorial for those killed in the confrontation between Ukraine's military and the pro-Russia separatist forces in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 23, 2022. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)
A woman walks by a photographic memorial for those killed in the confrontation between Ukraine's military and the pro-Russia separatist forces in Sievierodonetsk, Luhansk region, eastern Ukraine, Feb. 23, 2022. (Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Washington has given Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky an intelligence assessment that a full-blown Russian invasion of his country will come within the next 48 hours, Newsweek reported Wednesday, citing US intelligence officials.

The assault was predicted to include a cyberattack and, indeed, shortly after Newsweek received the information a cyberattack took down Ukrainian state websites.

A US official with direct knowledge of the developments told Newsweek that Zelensky was told a Russian invasion “will highly likely begin” in the next two days.

A Pentagon assessment envisioned airstrikes, cruise missile attacks, including on Kyiv, and an invasion by ground forces.

The official said that Russian forces will enter Ukraine from neighboring Belarus as well as from the pro-Russian rebel-held Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, and will push toward the capital Kyiv. Russia recently completed a major joint exercise with Belarus but its forces remained stationed in the territory of its close ally.

The official, who spoke anonymously, added that observations made from aircraft indicated Russia violated Ukrainian airspace Wednesday, “flying possible reconnaissance aircraft for a short period over Ukraine.”

A second US intelligence official backed up the information and predicted the invasion will likely occur at night and will be preempted by cyberattacks.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a news conference at the Mariinskyi Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 23, 2022. (frem Lukatsky/AP)

Both officials noted that Russia’s plan could change from day to day depending on developments.

A source close to the Ukrainian government confirmed to Newsweek that the US issued the warning to Zelensky.

A senior Ukrainian minister said Wednesday that his country was coming under a “massive” cyberattack, with the main websites of the government and foreign ministry refusing to open.

Deputy Prime Minister Mykailo Fyodorov said the attack began in the late afternoon and affected several banks as well as official websites, without specifying its origin.

Ukraine’s Minister for Digital Transformation Mikhail Fedorov said the distributed denial-of-service attacks targeted the websites of the Ukrainian parliament, cabinet and foreign ministry.

NATO has blamed recent cyberattacks in Ukraine on Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and warned further attacks are likely as tensions over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine mount.

US law enforcement officials have warned the US private sector that it too could be targeted by Russian cyberattacks, Newsweek reported Monday, citing an FBI document.

This Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022 satellite imagery provided by Maxar Technologies shows new deployments of troops and equipment that have been established in rural areas southwest of Belgorod, less than 20 kilometers to the northwest of the border with Ukraine. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

The US has for weeks been predicting a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized Ukraine’s separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk as independent statelets, then put his forces on standby to move into the Western-backed country.

Russia has also started evacuating its embassy in Kyiv. Russian state news agency Tass reported that Russia began pulling personnel from its diplomatic posts in Ukraine on Wednesday.

The move came a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry announced a plan to evacuate, citing threats against Russians in Ukraine.

At the same time, Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia as the region braced for a military confrontation, with some 150,000 Russian troops deployed around Ukraine’s borders.

UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Putin was “highly likely” to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and attack Kyiv.

However, Truss noted London does not yet have “the full evidence” that Russian troops have crossed into Ukrainian territory, including rebel-held areas, calling the current situation “ambiguous.”

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss arrives for a meeting with the Foreign Ministers of the G7 Nations at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on February 19, 2022. (Ina Fassbender/Pool via AP)

US President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday fresh penalties against Moscow for “beginning” an invasion of Ukraine. On Wednesday, Russia said that new US sanctions will meet a “strong response.”

US stirring ‘panic’

China accused the United States of creating “fear and panic” over the crisis in Ukraine.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that China opposes new sanctions on Russia, reiterating a longstanding Chinese position.

She said the US was fueling tensions by providing weapons to Kyiv in response to Russia’s large troop deployment around Ukraine’s borders and fears of an invasion.

China-Russia ties have grown closer under Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who hosted Putin in Beijing earlier this month.

The two sides issued a joint statement backing Moscow’s opposition to a NATO expansion in former Soviet republics and buttressing China’s claim to the self-governing island of Taiwan — key foreign policy issues for Beijing and Moscow.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian leader Zelensky demanded “immediate” security guarantees from the West and Moscow aimed at averting a Russian invasion.

“Ukraine needs security guarantees. Clear, specific and immediate,” Zelensky said Wednesday, adding: “I believe that Russia must be among those countries giving clear security guarantees.”

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