Senior U.S. officials pivoted Thursday from warning of the threat that Russia could soon invade Ukraine to the firm expectation the invasion is about to begin.
What they’re saying: “If Russia doesn’t invade, we will be relieved that Russia changed course and proved our predictions wrong,” Secretary of State Tony Blinken said today. But both he and President Biden made quite clear that they believe Vladimir Putin has chosen war, and Blinken went so far as to present the playbook the U.S. expects Putin to follow.
First, Blinken told the UN Security Council, Putin will need a pretext.
- That could involve a “violent event” precipitated by Russia or “an outrageous accusation” against Ukraine, Blinken said.
- He cited the possibility of a fabricated terrorist bombing, drone strike against civilians or chemical weapons attack. Blinken also said Russia could falsely claim that “ethnic cleansing or a genocide” is taking place in Eastern Ukraine, or stage the discovery of a mass grave.
- The latest: Such claims are already being shared by Russian state media and Kremlin officials, including Putin himself.
Second, Blinken warned “the highest levels of the Russian government may theatrically convene emergency meetings to address the so-called crisis” and proclaim the need to rise up and defend Russian citizens or ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
- The latest: Russian media reported today that Putin is holding meetings in preparation for a major address to the federal assembly.
Third, the attack will begin with Russian missiles and bombs across Ukraine, jammed communications and cyberattacks designed to shut down “key Ukrainian institutions,” Blinken said.
- The latest: The websites of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry and two major banks were knocked offline temporarily on Tuesday by a cyberattack, though no sensitive systems appear to have been affected.
Fourth, “Russian tanks and soldiers will advance on to targets that have already been identified and mapped out in detailed plans,” including Kyiv.
- The latest: U.S. officials now estimate the troop count near Ukraine’s borders at 150,000. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said today that Russian troops were “inching closer” to Ukraine’s border and “stocking up their blood supplies.” Satellite images have also shown a new military pontoon bridge in Belarus, less than 4 miles from the Ukraine border.
- “Every indication that we have is that they are prepared to go into Ukraine,” Biden told reporters today. He said he expects an invasion “in the next several days,” but there is still a “path to diplomacy.”
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