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US ambassador won’t rule out a Russian invasion of Ukraine: ‘Things here remain very tense’

After losing a key ally in his quest to reassert Russian dominance over eastern Europe, could Vladimir Putin invade Ukraine? Retiring U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul repeatedly refused to rule it out, noting that “things here remain very tense” and there’s been a “lot of very heated rhetoric” over this weekend’s revolution.

McCaul spoke to CNN’s Jake Tapper, who began by highlighting comments from National Security Advisor Susan Rice calling any possible invasion “a grave mistake.”

“Mr. Ambassador, how likely do you think it is that Russia would send troops in,” Tapper asked, “especially considering the fears of Ukrainian unrest spreading across the border?”

The diplomat’s response wasn’t exactly reassuring. “I can tell you that things here remain very tense, in what government officials are saying about what’s happening in Ukraine,” he began. “On the television channels you’re seeing a lot of heated rhetoric because of what they call their ‘special relationship’ with Ukraine, especially those regions in the east.”

“We’ve been very clear that we don’t see greater exacerbation, especially violent conflict, as in anybody’s interest,” McCaul stressed. “We saw the tragedy on the streets of Kiev, and as somebody who’s travelled many times to that fantastic city, it was shocking to me to watch what happened.”

“It obviously didn’t lead to any good political result for anyone on either side,” he added, “so we’re working hard to put in place a peaceful resolution to the political crisis right now.”

Tapper wondered whether Putin might use the Ukrainian tug-of-war now being played between West and East to advance a broader conflict with Europe and United States — reopening “a Cold War chessboard,” as President Obama put it recently.

“That imagery — you know, kind of 18th-century balance of power politics, where if it’s two points for America it’s minus two for Russia — just doesn’t work in the 21st century,” McCaul said. “It’s an argument that we have proposed to the Russians from the very beginning.”

Reports on Monday indicate that Russia is moving a large contingent of warships to their base in southern Ukraine, and has begun issuing passports to Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens in the southern region of Crimea. The country reacted similarity in the run-up to invading the Caucasus nation of Georgia in 2008.

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