US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has brushed aside suggestions that Moscow would wait until after the Beijing Games, as commercial satellite images show fresh Russian military deployments.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said a Russian invasion of Ukraine could come "any time", as commercial satellite images show fresh Russian military deployments at several locations.
"We're in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear that includes during the Olympics," Blinken said on Friday.
He brushed aside suggestions that Moscow would wait until after the Beijing Games, which end on February 20, to avoid upstaging ally China.
"Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation," Blinken said after a meeting of counterparts from the Quad countries — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — in Melbourne.
He insisted that the United States "would strongly prefer to resolve the differences" with Russia "through diplomacy".
"But at the same time, we've been very clear in building deterrence and building defence and making it clear to Russia that if it chooses the path of renewed aggression, it will face massive consequences."
His comments come as President Joe Biden urged Americans in Ukraine to immediately leave the country, another strong public signal that war may be drawing closer.
Washington-Moscow tensions are at their highest since the Cold War, with some US estimates saying around 130,000 Russian soldiers are grouped in dozens of combat brigades near the border with Ukraine.
New satellite images
US-based Maxar Technologies, which has been tracking the buildup for weeks, said images taken on Wednesday and Thursday showed significant new deployments.
Russia is holding joint military exercises in ex-Soviet Belarus as well as naval drills in the Black Sea — military activities near Ukraine that have fuelled fears of an impending invasion. Russia denies any plans to attack.
In Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, Maxar said it had identified a large new deployment of troops and equipment at Oktyabrskoye airfield north of the city of Simferopol, including 550 troop tents and hundreds of vehicles.
New troops and equipment also arrived near Crimea's Novoozernoye, it said, pointing also to a new deployment near the town of Slavne, on the northwest coast of the peninsula.
In Belarus, the site of major joint drills, Maxar said it had identified a new deployment of troops, military vehicles and helicopters at Zyabrovka airfield near Gomel, less than 25 km from the border with Ukraine.
In a statement sent by email late on Thursday, it said a large deployment of troops and forces had recently arrived at the Kursk training area in western Russia, approximately 110 kilometres to the east of the Ukrainian border.