'Every indication' Putin plans force by mid-February: US
Annual Direct Line with Vladimir Putin in Moscow - Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual "Direct Line with Vladimir Putin" live call-in show. - -/Kremlin/dpa

The United States believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin remains poised to use force against Ukraine by mid-February despite a pressure campaign to stop him, a top diplomat said Wednesday.

"I have no idea whether he's made the ultimate decision, but we certainly see every indication that he is going to use military force sometime perhaps (between) now and the middle of February," Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told a forum.

Sherman, who met with her Russian counterpart earlier this month in Vienna in an attempt to warn Moscow against invading its neighbor, said that Putin's planning may be affected by the Winter Games in Beijing, which the United States and several allies are boycotting due to human rights concerns.

"We all are aware that the Beijing Olympics begin on February 4, the opening ceremony, and President Putin expects to be there," Sherman told the Yalta European Strategy forum.

"I think that probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine, so that may affect his timing and his thinking."

Sherman said that the United States was "pushing for diplomacy" but also "preparing for the worst."

She reiterated that "even one Russian troop further invading Ukraine is a very serious matter" -- a continued message from Washington after President Joe Biden raised eyebrows by speaking of a different European response to a "minor" incursion.

But she said the United States was "preparing for all kinds of scenarios," from a "full-on invasion" to "hybrid attacks or subversion or sabotage or coercion."

Any invasion "has tremendous consequences for Ukraine and Europe, but also sends a message to the entire world that other autocrats can act with such impunity and go past long-held international principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity and an ability of a country to choose its own alliances."

Russia late last year amassed tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine, where a pro-Moscow insurgency has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

Russia, while denying plans for an invasion, has demanded concessions from the United States including a guarantee that Ukraine will never enter NATO.

© 2022 AFP