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National security adviser Jake Sullivan briefs Senate leaders on Ukraine crisis

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images/TNS)
February 15, 2022

The threat of a Russian military invasion of Ukraine continued to hang over Europe on Monday, as President Joe Biden discussed possible responses with the British prime minister, and Washington lawmakers dug their teeth into intelligence assessments.

Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, gave Senate leadership a classified late-afternoon briefing on the crisis, according to staffers.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, indicated an openness to continued diplomatic talks with the West. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the dialogue was “far from being exhausted.”

But the reality in Eastern Europe was concerning. Dozens of Russian military vessels threatened in the Black Sea near the Ukrainian coast, and estimates put the number of Russian troops deployed near Ukraine’s borders above 130,000.

Urgent warnings echoing out of Washington and London have suggested that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, may order an invasion within the week, perhaps on Wednesday.

“We are in the window when an invasion could begin at any time,” Karine Jean-Pierre, deputy White House press secretary, said in a news briefing. “It remains unclear which path Russia will choose to take.”

“The path for diplomacy remains available if Russia chooses to engage again constructively,” Jean-Pierre added. “But we are clear-eyed about the prospects on the ground, and are ready to impose severe costs on Russia in coordination with our allies and partners.”

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, declared Wednesday will be a national day of unity in his country. Zelenskyy, a comedian by trade and optimist by disposition, has sought to downplay the threat from his country’s east.

Still, with the murky and volatile situation unfolding, the U.S. has pulled staff from its embassy in Kyiv and urged U.S. citizens in Ukraine to leave immediately.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Monday that the U.S. was “continuing our intensive diplomatic efforts to deescalate the crisis.”

“The path for diplomacy remains available if Russia chooses to engage in good faith,” Blinken said in the statement. “We look forward to returning our staff to the Embassy as soon as conditions permit.”

Over the weekend, the U.S. said that it was deploying 3,000 troops to Europe. But Biden has suggested that U.S. soldiers will not be dispatched to rescue Americans in Ukraine if Russia advances into the country.

“We’re dealing with one of the largest armies in the world,” Biden told NBC News last week, describing Russia’s military. “Things could go crazy quickly.”

The White House said in a statement that Biden spoke Monday with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, and that the pair reviewed “ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts.”

The West is expected to institute crippling sanctions on Russia’s economy should Putin choose to invade Ukraine, a nation of 44 million people that sits in what was once the Soviet Union.

In a tweet, Johnson threatened Monday that Putin would be making a “disastrous mistake” by invading.

“We are on an edge of a precipice, but there is still time for President Putin to step back,” Johnson said in the post.

In a subsequent post, Johnson added that he and Biden both see a “crucial window” to advance talks with the Kremlin. But he emphasized that the stakes were highs.

“Further incursion into Ukraine,” Johnson tweeted, “will result in far-reaching damage for Russia and the world.”


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