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(NEW YORK) – After weeks of escalating tensions, U.S. officials have warned a Russian attack on Ukraine could happen “any day.”

Russia has spent weeks building up military forces near eastern Ukraine, with more than 150,000 troops encircling Ukraine in Belarus and on the Russian side of the border, according to US officials.

The Kremlin has denied warnings of an imminent invasion and claimed in recent days that it was withdrawing some troops, while US and NATO officials have said – and commercial satellite images have shown – that it there was no sign of de-escalation.

As world leaders continue to deploy diplomatic efforts to avert war between Russia and Ukraine, a senior State Department official told ABC News on Thursday that this is “perhaps the most most perilous to peace and security since the end of the cold war”.

As the conflict unfolds on a global stage, Americans are somewhat mixed about how the United States should respond. In a new Quinnipiac University poll, 57% of Americans said the United States should not send troops to Ukraine if Russia invades, and 54% support Biden’s decision to deploy troops to support allies of NATO.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden addressed the American public and again made it clear that the United States would not send troops to support Ukraine. But he promised to defend “every square inch” of NATO territory, already deploying several thousand more troops in Europe, and to support the Ukrainian people and their government with deadly defensive weapons, economic aid and US sanctions. and crippling allies against Russia.

This high level of US involvement is necessary, he said, because “it’s not just about Russia and Ukraine.”

“This is about standing up for what we believe in, the future we want for our world, freedom, the right of countless countries to choose their own destiny. And the right of peoples to determine their own future, or the principle that a country cannot change its neighbor’s borders by force,” Biden said. “If we don’t defend freedom where it is threatened today, we will surely pay a higher price tomorrow.”

Links with NATO

To understand the vested interest of the United States in the conflict, one would have to go back to the Cold War, said Craig Albert, associate professor of political science and director of intelligence and security studies at the University of Augusta, at ABC News.

To counter Soviet aggression in Europe, the United States helped form the NATO security alliance, or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, in 1949. In the years that followed, NATO expanded several times, including adding three former Soviet republics.

Ukraine, a former Soviet republic bordered by Russia to the east, is not a member of NATO, although in 2008 the alliance opened the door to membership. Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded that this not happen as he seeks to limit NATO along the Russian border.

“Ukraine has attached itself to the West, to NATO,” Albert said. “They still have military agreements, treaties, economic treaties, trade treaties or relations, even though there is no NATO treaty in place between Ukraine and NATO and the states -United”

NATO members bordering Russia are also a concern. The potential impact of the Ukraine conflict on US interests is considered “significant” by the Council on Foreign Relations, which said in part that the conflict “could further deteriorate US-Russian relations and worsen if Russia was expanding its presence in Ukraine or NATO countries.”

As Russia tries to “reassert itself in the great power game”, the United States seeks to maintain the balance of power in Europe and “protect Ukraine as a buffer against Russia’s perceived aggression in Europe itself,” Albert said, noting that Ukraine is “strategically important” to Russia, the United States and NATO.

NATO is “essential to American policy in Europe”, and support for Ukraine for more than 30 years “has been an integral part of American security policy for the entire European continent”, said Matthew Pauly , associate professor of history at Michigan State University. who is an expert on Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe, told ABC News.

“There is no doubt that the more east-facing member states of NATO are rightly worried about Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” Pauly said. “The United States obviously considers it its duty to compel, through the responsibilities of NATO membership, to hold the line on NATO’s eastern front.”

Indeed, the United States has already sent troops into the midst of Russian aggression to support NATO’s eastern flank.

“Make no mistake, the United States will defend every square inch of NATO territory with the full force of American power,” Biden said this week. “An attack on one NATO country is an attack on all of us.”

Prevent “world war”

The United States has sent thousands more troops to Central and Eastern Europe in recent weeks, although Biden has made it clear he will not send any to Ukraine to fight Russia and stressed the importance of diplomacy to achieve de-escalation.

In an interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt earlier this week, Biden acknowledged the risk of another assault. When asked what scenario could lead him to send troops to help Americans in Ukraine, Biden replied: “There is none. It’s a world war when the Americans and Russia start to fight each other. to shoot on.”

“We’re dealing with one of the biggest armies in the world. It’s a very different situation, and things could get crazy quickly,” he said.

The risk of the conflict escalating beyond Ukraine is “high,” ABC News national security and defense analyst Michael “Mick” Patrick Mulroy told ABC News Live this week.

“That should be a concern for everyone,” he said.

Preserving democracy and sovereignty

Another important dimension of US involvement in the crisis is its support for Ukraine as a democracy, Pauly said. Since 1991, when Ukraine declared independence, the United States has offered “substantial” foreign assistance, particularly in the 1990s, to help it emerge from the Soviet period, democratize and develop a free market economy, he said.

“Ukraine is a democracy, it’s the only really functional democracy of a few in the former Soviet space,” Pauly said. “Although democratization has had a kind of rough ride in Ukraine, it’s hard to argue that it’s not a democracy.”

“Democracy in Ukraine deserves to be protected,” he continued. “Democracy is our best guarantee against war and the best assurance of peace.”

The United States, along with its Western allies, has also expressed support for maintaining Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russian aggression.

Biden said the United States was providing the Ukrainian military with weapons, training and intelligence to help it defend itself.

“Nations have the right to sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the president said on Tuesday. “They have the freedom to chart their own course and choose who they partner with.”

Impact at home

The exact impact of an invasion beyond the front lines remains uncertain. Although Biden warned the American people that there would be “consequences at home” – above all an increase in energy prices as a result.

“I’m not going to pretend it’s going to be painless,” Biden said Tuesday. “There could be an impact on our energy prices, so we are taking active steps to ease the pressure on our own energy markets and offset rising prices.”

In a limited foray into eastern Ukraine, there could be an oil price hike of $5 or $10 a barrel, according to GasBuddy’s Patrick De Haan. Currently, a $1 per barrel increase is equivalent to an increase of about 1.5 cents per gallon in the national average gasoline price. If the United States and its allies impose harsh sanctions on Russia, Russia could retaliate by limiting oil exports, he said, which would impact global markets.

If rising oil and gas prices push the Federal Reserve to be more aggressive in its monetary tightening, that could also have an impact on inflation, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics.

Cyber ​​warfare also remains a concern. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned that the US response to a possible Russian invasion could result in a cyberattack launched against the United States by the Russian government or its proxies.

There is also the impact on US troops as more military forces are deployed to support NATO countries.

“I think [Americans] should pay attention to this as it could significantly affect strategic deployments of US personnel,” Albert said. maybe a Russian invasion.”

Conor Finnegan, Molly Nagle, Sarah Kolinovsky, Zunaira Zaki, Mary Burke, Layne Winn and ABC News’ Will Kim contributed to this report.

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