Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered his army to prepare for an invasion of Ukraine, according to media reports Sunday, citing US intelligence.
Western leaders warned that Russia was poised to attack its neighbor, which is surrounded on three sides by about 150,000 Russian soldiers, warplanes and equipment.
An official quoted by CBS News, however, said that the order was not final and that it could be changed at any moment.
According to sources quoted by the Daily Mail, the Russian high command was preparing battle plans.
The Mail also reported that convoys of military vehicles painted with the letter ‘Z’ were seen moving toward the border with Ukraine.
According to the report, it is suspected the markings have been allocated for specific roles or army groups.
Full video pic.twitter.com/YpMKmY7Ryo
— Michael Sheldon (@Michael1Sheldon) February 19, 2022
The use of “Z” is confusing considering the fact that it is not a letter in the Russian Cyrillic alphabet.
Earlier on Sunday, fears of escalation mounted after Belarus announced that Russian forces would remain on its soil after Sunday’s scheduled end to joint drills.
Moscow had previously said the 30,000 troops it has in Belarus were carrying out readiness drills with its ally, to be finished by Sunday, allowing the Russians to head back to their bases.
US President Joe Biden said late Friday that based on the latest American intelligence, he was “convinced” that Putin has decided to invade Ukraine in the coming days and assault the capital. Biden was to meet with his national security team later Sunday in Washington.
A US military official quoted by AP said on Sunday an estimated 75% of the ground forces surrounding Ukraine had moved into attack positions closer to the border. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal US assessments, said the change had been underway for about a week and did not necessarily mean Putin was committed to an invasion.
The US and many European countries have charged for months that Russia is trying to create pretexts to invade. They have threatened massive, immediate sanctions if it does.