LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A senior lecturer at the University of Kentucky's Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce said tensions between Ukraine and Russia could escalate into a war that could "get ugly very quick."
"We could see a siege of Kyiv," Dr. Robert Farley said of the Ukrainian capital. "We could see fighting in Kyiv. We could see a Russian effort essentially to replace the Ukrainian government."
More than 100,000 Russian forces are believed to be outside Ukraine's borders, with some reports indicating that an invasion could happen as soon as Wednesday.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday that he expects "February 16 will be the day of the attack," but Ukrainian officials later clarified that the president's comments were "ironic."
"You have to remember he's a comedian," Dr. Farley said of Zelensky's old profession. "I think that cutting the edge with jokes is one of the ways he deals with problems like this."
Dr. Farley added that Zelensky and Ukrainian officials have made a deliberate effort to downplay the threat of an invasion.
"That is largely intended to prevent giving the Russians any kind of provocation," he said.
But Dr. Farley said U.S. intelligence appears to signal an attack is imminent. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Monday that its embassy would be temporarily relocated from Kyiv to Lviv "due to the dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces."
"It's a sign that the U.S. government is extremely concerned and a lot of western governments are extremely concerned," Dr. Farley said.
Dr. Farley said a possible diplomatic off-ramp to avoid violence could come in the form of a pledge from Ukraine not to join NATO, but Zelensky walked back similar suggestions made by Ukraine's ambassador to Britain.
When LEX 18 reached out to the Ukrainian Pentecostal Church of Lexington, a representative declined an interview, but did send a statement reading, "As Christians, we pray that tensions de-escalate and there is peace in Ukraine."