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White House warns Russia could attack Ukraine ‘at any point’

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin (Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Released)
January 18, 2022

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki warned during a Tuesday press briefing that Russia could invade Ukraine at any time.

Psaki said Russian President Vladimir Putin has “created this crisis by amassing 100,000 Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders. This includes moving Russian forces into Belarus recently for conducting joint exercises and conducting exercises on Ukraine’s eastern border.”

“Our view is this is an extremely dangerous situation,” Psaki said. “We’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine.”

Psaki’s remarks have come amid increased warning signs of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. In addition to amassing around 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border for months now, Russia has moved troops into Belarus, which borders Ukraine to the north. With troops on Ukraine’s eastern border, as well as in Belarus and in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory of Crimea, Russia has a sizeable military presence on three sides of Ukraine.

While the number of Russian troops near the Ukrainian border has stayed at about the same level for weeks, Russia has increasingly moved attack helicopters, fighter jets, transport helicopters and logistics units into the area. Russia has also reportedly begun withdrawing many of its diplomats from its embassy in Kyiv and consulates throughout Ukraine.

Within the last several days, U.S., Ukrainian and NATO officials have also repeated claims that secretive Russian units may be moving into Ukraine to stage a “false flag” attack on Russia’s own forces, which they may then blame on Ukraine and use as a pretext to invade.

During the Tuesday press briefing, Psaki said Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and they agreed to meet in Geneva, Switzerland for further talks.

“At that meeting, Secretary Blinken will urge Russia to take immediate steps to deescalate,” Psaki said. “He will also fly to Kyiv to meet with [Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] and Ukraine’s leaders and to Germany for consultations.”

Psaki said Blinken will “highlight very clearly there is a diplomatic path forward; it is the choice of President Putin and the Russians to make whether they’re going to suffer severe economic consequences or not.”

During the press briefing, Psaki was asked to address reporting that the U.S. and other western nations were no longer considering removing Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) international payment processing system as a means of economic punishment if Russia attacks Ukraine.

“No option is off the table, in our view,” Psaki said. “We continue consulting closely with European counterparts on severe consequences for Russia if it further invades Ukraine.”

Psaki also said halting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany is “a credible piece we hold over Russia at this time.” Psaki said the U.S. and its allies could eventually halt the completion of the pipeline as a way to punish Russia economically.