(NEXSTAR) — Russian armed forces are now “as ready as they can be” to launch an all-out attack on Ukraine, a senior U.S. official defense official in Washington warned Wednesday. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the information.
The official added that 80% of the troops along the Ukrainian border and inside Belarus had moved to “forward positions” as of Wednesday.
The Russian forces have “advanced their readiness to a point where they are literally ready to go – now,” the official said.
The words mirrored those of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who told NBC in an interview that “Russia has positioned its forces at the final point of readiness across Ukraine’s borders — to the north, to the east, to the south — everything seems to be in place for Russia to engage in a major aggression against Ukraine.”
Fears of an imminent offensive were further heightened late Wednesday when the Kremlin said rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine have asked Russia for military assistance to help fend off Ukrainian “aggression.”
With Russian lawmakers having authorized Putin to use military force outside the country and Ukraine surrounded on three sides by more than 150,000 troops, the rumble of tanks did not appear far off.
Ukraine, after weeks of trying to project calm, imposed a nationwide state of emergency.
Ukraine’s president is rejecting Moscow’s claim that his country poses a threat to Russia and warns that a looming Russian invasion could cause tens of thousands of deaths.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made the comments in a video address early Thursday.
Speaking emotionally in Russia, he said: “The people of Ukraine and the government of Ukraine want peace. But if we come under attack that threaten our freedom and lives of our people we will fight back.”
Zelenskyy says he tried to call Russian President Vladimir Putin late Wednesday but the Kremlin remained silent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.