Ukrainian commander-in-chief to Russia: 'Welcome to Hell!'

Sullivan said US intelligence believes Russian President Vladimir Putin could order an invasion before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on February 20.

 Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels in the town of New York in the Donetsk region, Ukraine February 9, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/OLEKSANDR KLYMENKO)
Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces stand guard at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels in the town of New York in the Donetsk region, Ukraine February 9, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/OLEKSANDR KLYMENKO)

The commander-in-chief of Ukraine's Armed Forces warned that the country is ready to fight back against a possible Russian invasion, telling Russian forces "Welcome to hell!" in a statement issued on Saturday.

“420,000 Ukrainian soldiers and every without exception commander have already looked in the eyes of death...We will not give away a single piece of Ukrainian land!” said Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Lt.-Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi.

“I assure that the Armed Forces of Ukraine are ready to fight back," said Zaluzhnyi, adding that Ukrainian soldiers are "ready to meet enemies not with flowers, but with Stingers, Javelins and NLAW. Welcome to hell!"

Zaluzhnyi's statements come as concerns rise of an imminent Russian invasion into Ukraine.

Russia now has enough forces to conduct a major military operation against Ukraine and an assault aimed at seizing large parts of that country could begin "any day now," White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Friday.

 A Russian service member is seen on a BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle during drills held by the armed forces of the Southern Military District at the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region, Russia February 3, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/SERGEY PIVOVAROV) A Russian service member is seen on a BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicle during drills held by the armed forces of the Southern Military District at the Kadamovsky range in the Rostov region, Russia February 3, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/SERGEY PIVOVAROV)

Sullivan, speaking at a White House briefing without listing specific evidence, said any American still in Ukraine should leave in the next 24-48 hours. He said a Russian invasion could start with an air assault that would make departures difficult.

Sullivan said US intelligence believes Russian President Vladimir Putin could order an invasion before the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on February 20 and that a rapid assault on the Ukraine capital Kyiv is a possibility.

Sullivan spoke after President Joe Biden held a secure video call with transatlantic leaders from the White House Situation Room and sought allied unity in the face of a worsening situation.

It remains unclear, Sullivan said, whether Putin has definitively given an order to start an invasion. He said he expects Biden to seek out a phone call with Putin soon on the crisis.

"We have not seen anything come to us that says a final decision has been taken, the go-order has been given," he said.

But with 100,000 troops massed on Ukraine's border, Sullivan said a Russian invasion could involve seizure of large sections of Ukraine as well as major cities including Kyiv.

Sullivan said there is a "fundamental distinction" between the intelligence situation now and that which the United States used in justifying the 2003 Iraq war, which was based on claims of weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be wrong.

Then, US "intelligence was used and deployed from this very podium to start a war. We are trying to stop a war, to prevent a war," he said.

Further, he said, in 2003 "it was information about intentions, about hidden things, stuff that couldn't be seen. Today we are talking about more than 100,000 Russian troops amassed along the Ukrainian border... it's all over social media, it's all over your news sites. So, you can believe your own eyes."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said he will speak to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday, adding that Washington and its allies would swiftly impose severe economic sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine.

Blinken, speaking from Fiji where he attended a meeting with Pacific leaders, said if Russia was genuinely interested in resolving the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy, Washington was prepared to play its part.