(CN) — Fears of a European war breaking out reached an even higher level of intensity on Friday as the White House warned that Russia might invade Ukraine at any moment and Russian troops and war ships engaged in large-scale military drills on its southern neighbor's borders.
Europeans woke up Friday morning with news that U.S. President Joe Biden was telling Americans living in Ukraine to leave the country because “things could go crazy quickly” at any moment.
“American citizens should leave now,” Biden said in a prerecorded interview with NBC News Thursday evening. On Friday, the United Kingdom, Japan and the Netherlands also told their citizens to leave immediately.
When prodded, Biden reaffirmed that American troops would not be sent to Ukraine if Russia invades. But the U.S. and its allies are warning that Russia will face severe consequences if it invades.
“That's a world war. When Americans and Russians start shooting one another, we're in a very different world,” he said.
War fears were stoked further by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken when he said during a trip to Australia on Friday that Russia could invade during the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which end on Feb. 20.
“Simply put, we continue to see very troubling signs of Russian escalation, including new forces arriving at the Ukrainian border,” Blinken told a news conference in Melbourne, Australia. “As we've said before, we're in a window when an invasion could begin at any time, and to be clear, that includes during the Olympics.”
For weeks, military experts have speculated about a Russian invasion during the Winter Olympics because Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 during the Summer Olympics in Beijing and the Kremlin ordered the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in Ukraine during the 2104 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The Olympic Games themselves are adding even more fuel to this combustible situation after a doping scandal involving Russia's top female figure skater, the 15-year-old superstar Kamila Valieva, erupted.
Shortly before the Russian skating team was about to receive the gold medal ahead of the United States, the award ceremony was postponed due to a “legal problem.” Valieva is now under suspicion after the International Testing Agency revealed she tested positive for the banned heart drug trimetazidine at the Russian national championships in December. A hearing into the case is scheduled for Monday, throwing into doubt Russia's team gold medal and her participation in the Olympics. In winning the team competition, Valieva became the first female skater to land a quadruple jump at the Olympics, a feat hailed as historic.
Now Russia is rallying behind the teenage star.
“We absolutely overwhelmingly support Kamila Valieva in any case, and we urge everyone to support her,” said Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin's spokesman. “And we tell her: ‘Kamila don’t hide your face. You are Russian. Walk proudly and, most importantly, compete and defeat everyone!’”
Adding to this dangerously volatile picture are large-scale military drills that got underway this week in Belarus, the Black Sea and near Ukraine's borders in Russia.
About 130,000 Russian troops have been amassed around Ukraine and they are engaged in live-fire exercises that are expected to last for several days. The Russian Navy closed off large areas of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov for live-fire exercises by its fleet, causing an effective blockade of Ukrainian ports.
On Friday, Ukrainian military officials warned that Russian-backed separatists in Donbas, a breakaway region in eastern Ukraine where a simmering war has been fought for the past eight years, also were engaged in military drills.
Despite the U.S. warnings, many Russia experts do not believe Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to invade Ukraine because the costs of such an action would be simply too high. Russia faces even heavier sanctions, exclusion from the U.S.-dominated international banking system and a costly and bloody war with a much-improved Ukrainian military.