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Biden tells U.S. citizens to leave Ukraine, saying military wouldn't rescue them

The U.S. is telling its citizens to leave Ukraine now, citing "increased threats of Russian military action." Because of the tensions, regular Ukrainians are taking lessons on using weapons and survival training — like this man who was instructed on shooting Thursday by a member of the Georgian National Legion paramilitary volunteer unit.
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The U.S. is telling its citizens to leave Ukraine now, citing "increased threats of Russian military action." Because of the tensions, regular Ukrainians are taking lessons on using weapons and survival training — like this man who was instructed on shooting Thursday by a member of the Georgian National Legion paramilitary volunteer unit.

The U.S. isn't planning a military operation to help its citizens leave Ukraine, President Biden says, and they should do so on their own. "American citizens should leave now," Biden said as Russia amasses a military force around its neighbor.

Biden made the remarks in an interview with NBC News' Lester Holt, who asked him what kind of scenarios would prompt a U.S. rescue mission, if Russia invades.

"There's not [one]," Biden said. "That's a world war — when Americans and Russians start shooting at one another, we're in a very different world than we've ever been in."

A military-run evacuation would be extremely complicated, Biden said, including the challenge of locating U.S. citizens in the country.

Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden added, "I'm hoping that if in fact he's foolish enough to go in, he's smart enough not to in fact do anything that would negatively impact on American citizens."

"He knows that," Biden added later. "What I've asked is, American citizens should leave — should leave now."

Biden contrasted this situation with the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, which saw the U.S. mount a days-long effort to fly U.S. citizens and some Afghans out of the county.

"We're dealing with one of the largest armies in the world," Biden said. "This is a very different situation, and things could go crazy quickly."

The U.S. State Department issued a "Level 4: Do Not Travel" advisory for Ukraine on Thursday, saying U.S. citizens in Ukraine "should depart now via commercial or private means," in large part because of the high threat of Russian military action (the advisory also mentioned Ukraine's "very high level" of COVID-19 cases).

"If remaining in Ukraine, exercise increased caution due to crime, civil unrest, and potential combat operations should Russia take military action," the State Department said.

Russia has positioned around 140,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and in Crimea, according to Russian media. Putin's military is currently conducting what's being called its largest exercise since the Cold War, in joint maneuvers with Belarus. Russia has also sent warships into the Black Sea for naval exercises, raising fears of a potential blockade or invasion.

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Because of the tensions, Biden last week deployed 2,000 U.S. troops to Europe, to bolster its NATO allies. He also ordered another 1,000 troops who are based in Germany to move to Romania.

If Russia defies international pressure and mounts an invasion, Belarus might be part of the plan. A recent analysis by the Center for Strategic & International Studies found that Russia's military could attempt "to outflank Ukrainian defenses around Kiev by approaching through Belarus."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.