The US intelligence assessment comes as foreign leaders are warning about an imminent attack and say that Russian troops are moving into the pro-Moscow region of eastern Ukraine.
Mr Morrison, whose country is a member of the Five Eyes alliance that shares intelligence, said it was “likely to occur within the next 24 hours.”
And on Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister of Latvia, a NATO member, told CNN that Russian troops have moved into the separatist region of Ukraine that Russia has now recognised as “independent.”
Later on Wednesday, the Pentagon also said it believes Russian troops are moving into the region.
Amid the warnings — as well as US President Joe Biden’s statements on Tuesday that the Russian invasion was beginning — Ukraine’s parliament on Wednesday approved the government’s declaration of a state of emergency, which would be imposed across the country starting at midnight Wednesday.
“According to the information at my disposal, Putin is moving additional forces and tanks into the occupied Donbas territories,” Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krišjānis Kariņš told CNN’s Jim Sciutto. “By any definition that’s a crossing of a sovereign territory into a neighbouring country.”
Pressed specifically on whether he was referring to the entry of additional Russian troops since Moscow recognised the two separatist regions earlier this week, Kariņš replied: “Yes, according to the information at my disposal, this is exactly what we’re seeing.”
Two other sources familiar with US intelligence confirmed to CNN that additional Russian troops have in fact crossed the border into the Donbas region since Putin recognised the two regions and issued an order deploying “peacekeepers” into the Donbas on Tuesday.
According to a senior US official familiar with the latest intelligence, Russia has deployed one to two so-called battalion tactical groups, Russia’s main combat formation, each of which comprise an average of about 800 troops.
CNN has not independently verified the presence of additional Russian troops in the Donbas.
The heads of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, the two separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for help Wednesday repelling the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti.
The Pentagon believes that “additional Russian military forces are moving into” the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said during an on-camera briefing at the Pentagon.
Kirby said the Pentagon could not confirm specifics on the number of Russian troops that have moved into these two regions – “what the formations are, what the capabilities are” – but said the Pentagon believes that Russian troops are moving in.
New intelligence warnings
The new warning from US intelligence was conveyed to Ukraine on Tuesday morning local Kyiv time, according to three of the sources. A senior Ukrainian official said Ukraine has not verified the intelligence and noted that the United States has issued similar warnings before, for assaults that ultimately did not materialise.
The US has assessed that Russia has completed all preparations for an invasion, a senior US defence official familiar with the latest intelligence. “They are as ready as they can be,” the official said.
NATO allies have been given a similar intelligence assessment warning of an imminent attack, according to a NATO military official. The official cautioned that “no one knows for sure” what Russian President Vladimir Putin is going to do.
Newsweek first reported on the US warning.
Of particular concern, the US warned, is the major northeastern city of Kharkiv, according to the senior Ukrainian official and a western official familiar with the intelligence. The Ukrainian foreign minister said on Tuesday there were no plans to evacuate the city,
“We do not have such plans,” he said during a press conference in Washington alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The US believes Putin is “improvising” and “adapting” in response to the United States revealing information about his war plans, the White House alleged on Wednesday.
Speaking during a daily briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Putin did not expect the level of transparency from the US about what it saw on the ground and how it expected Putin to proceed.
“Our assessment is that President Putin did not expect the United States to have the level of information that we have, did not expect us to put out this amount of information that we have put out, did not expect the global community to be as unified, including in the how unified the global community was in putting out the sanctions yesterday,” she said.
Ms Psaki said the US was not predicting a “day, a moment or an hour” of a Russian attack but said the US still believes “Russian military forces are in an attack position” and “they are capable of operationalising.”
Russian forces in ready positions, Pentagon says
A senior defence official told reporters at the Pentagon Wednesday that 80 per cent of Russian forces amassed on Ukraine’s border are “in what we would consider forward positions, ready to go,” a senior defence official told reporters during an off-camera briefing at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
Russian military forces “arrayed around Ukraine and Belarus are as ready as they can be,” for an invasion, the official said.
Russian military capabilities along the Ukraine border are “near 100 per cent of all forces” that the Pentagon anticipated Putin would move into the area, the official added. Putin has a “full range of capabilities” already moved to the Ukraine border, including “significant offensive missile capability,” “two dozen warships in the Black Sea” and “armour, artillery, certainly infantry,” according to the official.
Social media videos geolocated and analysed by CNN over the past several days show a continuing build-up of armour and support vehicles less than 30 kilometres across the border in Russia.
US officials have said that they anticipate both a ground invasion and airstrikes should Russia launch an attack.
“Russian missiles and bombs will drop across Ukraine. Communications will be jammed. Cyberattacks will shut down key Ukrainian institutions,” Mr Blinken said last week before the UN Security Council, describing how the US believed a Russian attack on Ukraine would unfold. “After that, Russian tanks and soldiers will advance on key targets that have already been identified and mapped out in detailed plans.”
US moving ahead with new sanctions
Mr Biden announced new sanctions on the company in charge of building the pipeline after blocking such measures last year using a national security waiver.
“Today, I have directed my administration to impose sanctions on Nord Stream 2 AG and its corporate officers,” Mr Biden wrote in a statement.
“These steps are another piece of our initial tranche of sanctions in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. As I have made clear, we will not hesitate to take further steps if Russia continues to escalate.
“Through his actions, President (Vladimir) Putin has provided the world with an overwhelming incentive to move away from Russian gas and to other forms of energy,” Mr Biden wrote.
The move is part of a series of penalties the US and its allies have imposed on Russia this week in response to Mr Putin’s recognition of separatist territories in eastern Ukraine as independent.
Today signs were emerging of escalation in the crisis, despite the new raft of sanctions.
The Biden Administration decided to move forward with rescinding the national security waiver on Nord Stream 2 after Germany on Tuesday announced that it was halting the certification of the pipeline, a US official said.
Sanctioning Nord Stream 2’s parent company, Nord Stream 2 AG – a registered Swiss firm whose parent company is the Russian gas giant Gazprom – is effectively a death knell to the project, the official added.
The move marks a significant shift in the Biden Administration’s policy toward Nord Stream 2, which had previously been to sanction some of the smaller entities involved in the project, including some Russian companies and ships that have been helping in the construction, but to hold off on sanctioning Nord Stream 2 AG and its CEO, Matthias Warnig.
Mr Biden had long been opposed to the energy project. But the concern was that imposing the harshest penalties on it would damage the US’ relationship with Germany, which insisted the pipeline was just a commercial project.
Mr Putin said in a video message on Wednesday that Russia’s interests were “non negotiable” — but he is open to dialogue for “the most difficult problems”.
“We see how difficult the international situation is developing, what dangers the current challenges pose, such as weakening of the arms control system or the military activity of the NATO bloc,” Mr Putin said in a clip released by the Kremlin for the national holiday, Defender of the Fatherland Day.
“At the same time, Russia’s calls to build a system of equal and indivisible security that would reliably protect all countries remain unanswered.”
Russia was “always open for direct and honest dialogue, for finding diplomatic solutions to the most difficult problems,” Mr Putin said, adding: “But I repeat: Russia’s interests and the security of our citizens are non-negotiable for us.”