Washington: The US government has continued to stick by its stand that Russia is ready to invade Ukraine at any moment, with government sources informing the media that around 50% of the military stationed on the border with Ukraine have uncooked into 'tactical' positions, ready to attack.
"Forty to fifty percent are in an attack position. They have uncoiled in tactical assembly in the last 48 hours," an unidentified US defense official told reporters according to AFP.
Tactical assembly points are areas next to the border where military units are set up in advance of an attack. The official said Moscow had massed 125 battalion tactical groups close to the Ukraine border, compared to 60 in normal times and up from 80 at the beginning of February.
The US has challenged Russia to provide additional proof of its purported withdrawal from the Ukraine-Russia border, after visuals of military de-escalation were released by Moscow on Wednesday showing soldiers and equipment returning to barracks.
Washington has warned for weeks that Russia could provoke or fabricate an incident in the area to serve as a pretext for invading Ukraine.
The increase in clashes between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine government forces in the southeastern Donbas region of Ukraine, and inflammatory claims by officials in Russia and Donbas, show that "the destabilization campaign has begun," the official said.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told ABC News' "This Week" that Russian President Vladimir Putin "has a number of options available to him and he could attack in short order."
"I don't believe it's a bluff," Austin said, adding, "I think he's assembled... the kinds of things that you would need to conduct a successful invasion."
Russia has consistently denied any attempts to invade Ukraine, calling Western warnings as alarmist propaganda and inferring that America was seeking to destabilise the peace process by making baseless allegations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will meet next week if no attack is made on Ukraine, the US State Department announced on Friday.