"We're now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine," says White House, upping its threat assessment.

US says that draft constitutional reforms in Belarus could lead to the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in the country.
US says that draft constitutional reforms in Belarus could lead to the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in the country. (AFP)

The White House has said that Russia is ready to attack Ukraine at "any point," upping its threat assessment ahead of a meeting between the top US and Russian diplomats.

"We're now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine," Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. 

"I would say that's starker than we have been."

Psaki's characterisation of the situation around Ukraine came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken was scheduled to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday in Geneva.

A US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Blinken's goal was to see "if there is a diplomatic off-ramp" and "common ground" where Russia can be persuaded to pull back from Ukraine.

Ukraine, the US, and European countries have raised deep concerns over Russia's troop build-up on the border, despite repeated denials from Moscow that an invasion is planned.

If President Vladimir Putin decides to launch an invasion of Ukraine, where Russia already has annexed Crimea and backs pro-Russian separatists in another region, then "severe economic consequences" will be imposed, Psaki said.

READ MORE: Blinken urges diplomatic path on Ukraine in call with Russian minister

Nord Stream 2 on sanction list

While the United States and its European allies have no plans to meet a Russian attack against Ukraine with military force, the economic counter-measures would be unlike any used in the past, Washington says.

Psaki stressed that this could include shelving the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany.

The pipeline, which has been completed but not commissioned, is seen as an important part of Europe's energy supply network, but also a crown jewel in Moscow's export capabilities.

"Our view continues to be that stopping the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is a credible piece we hold over Russia," Psaki said.

Blinken was flying Tuesday first to Ukraine in a show of support.

He will then head to Berlin for four-way talks with Britain, France, and Germany to seek Western unity.

READ MORE: What we do and don’t know about the cyberattack on Ukraine

Russian troops arrive in Belarus

Meanwhile, a senior US State Department official said Russian troops being deployed in Belarus for what Moscow and Minsk say will be joint military exercises are raising concerns that they "potentially" could be used to attack neighbouring Ukraine.

The war games will give Russian increased capability, opportunity, and avenues to launch such an attack, the State Department official told reporters in a briefing.

The US is also worried that draft constitutional reforms in Belarus could lead to the deployment of Russian nuclear weapons in the country, a senior State Department official told reporters.

Joint Russia-Belarus military exercises announced on Tuesday by Minsk as Russian troops arrived in the country were "beyond normal," and could preview a permanent Russian military presence involving both conventional and nuclear forces, the official said.

READ MORE: UK sends anti-tank weapons to Ukraine

Source: TRTWorld and agencies