US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said during a visit to Lithuania on Saturday that Russian troops concentrated on the border with Ukraine were “deploying” and “preparing to attack.”
“They are stationed and preparing for an attack,” the U.S. official said, adding that the Russian military was “moving to the right positions to carry out the attack.”
Mr Austin, however, said the conflict was “inevitable” and that President Vladimir Putin could choose “a different path”.
“The United States, along with our allies and partners, has given him the opportunity to find a diplomatic solution. We hope he will,” he said.
The U.S. official also clarified that he agrees with President Joe Biden that Vladimir Putin is “certain” that he has “decided” to invade Ukraine.
“There are a significant number of combat troops, and these forces are now beginning to deploy and move closer to the border,” Austin said.
The former general, who took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said, “Because I did it myself, I can tell you what it takes to attack.”
The Secretary of Defense reassured Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia that the United States stands “with (their) allies” and that Washington’s commitment to NATO’s joint security is “unattainable.”
Tensions in the region have rocked the Baltic states, all three of which border with Russia.
Mr. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabriel Landsbergis, who was with Austin, saw the Russian pressure on Ukraine as a “direct military threat to Ukraine,” but “to the whole region.”
“The war in Ukraine is the war in Europe. If we do not stop him, he (Putin) will go further,” Landsberg said.
The Baltic states have asked NATO to send them reinforcements in addition to troops already stationed there since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
The United Kingdom and Germany have pledged military reinforcements in the region, while the United States has sent 4,700 troops to neighboring Poland, which shares a border with Belarus and Russia.
The United States and Ukraine estimate that there are now 150,000 Russian troops stationed on Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus.