(Update 5:30pm ET): Shortly after images of the gas pipeline explosion was reaching social media, President Biden appeared behind the lectern at The White House (an hour late) to tell the world that he’s “convinced” that Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to launch a further invasion in Ukraine, including an assault on its capital, Kyiv.
After weeks of saying the U.S. wasn’t sure if Putin had made the final decision to launch a widespread invasion, Biden said that assessment had changed, citing “significant intelligence capability.”
“As of this moment I’m convinced he’s made the decision,” Biden said.
“We have reason to believe that.” He reiterated that it could occur in the “coming days.”
“We believe they will target Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people,” he said of Russian forces.
But with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken scheduled to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday, Biden said there is still time for negotiations to defuse the crisis.
“Diplomacy is always a possibility,” he said.
Meanwhile, US officials are also convinced that Russia was responsible for the DDOS attacks in Ukraine this week
The U.S. has technical information linking Russian GRU to this week’s distributed denial of service attacks in Ukraine. Known GRU infrastructure has been noted transmitting high volumes of communications to Ukraine-based IP addresses and associated banking-related domains.
— National Security Council (@WHNSC) February 18, 2022
Additionally, if any more FUD was needed, Foreign Policy reports that the US has obtained intelligence that Russia may target prominent political opponents, anti-corruption activists, and Belarusian and Russian dissidents living in exile should it move forward with plans to invade Ukraine.
* * *
(Update 4:48pm ET): In the overnight hours local time a massive gas pipeline explosion is being reported, with a fire raging at the site. Early unconfirmed reports suggest the powerful explosion rocked a part of the pipeline in the pro-Russian separatist region, in or near the city of Luhansk.
Interfax is also confirming a “pipeline fire in Eastern Ukraine after a powerful explosion”… Dramatic videos were quick to emerge showing a bright fireball on the horizon.
A gas pipeline is on fire in breakaway region Luhansk in Ukraine, Ria and others report pic.twitter.com/9em7JG5Maz
— Ragıp Soylu (@ragipsoylu) February 18, 2022
“An explosion has rocked the city of Lugansk in eastern Ukraine late on Friday, Sputnik news agency’s correspondent has reported,” according to Russian media.
And reports of a second explosion have come across the news wires:
RUSSIA’S INTERFAX NEWS AGENCY REPORTS SECOND EXPLOSION IN LUHANSK IN EAST UKRAINE
La explosión en Luhansk parece grave pic.twitter.com/JbJWbtWLF3
— 6w (@6w_es) February 18, 2022
“Local media have also confirmed that a pipeline in the area has been affected, resulting in a major fire. Emergency services are on the scene,” the report said.
Hawkish Republican Senator Marco Rubio was quick to immediately point the finger at Russia for sabotage, suggesting that that Washington might have its ‘false flag’ moment to pin on Moscow…