The U.S. believes there’s a “distinct possibility” that Russian President Vladimir Putin will choose to invade Ukraine, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Friday.
While tensions between Russia and Ukraine have escalated over the past few months, administration officials and President Joe Biden have repeatedly made clear they do not know whether Putin has made up his mind about an invasion. (RELATED: ‘Things Could Go Crazy, Quickly’: Biden Says He ‘Didn’t Have To Tell’ Putin Not To Harm Americans In Ukraine)
Sullivan maintained that the administration is unaware whether Putin has made up his mind, but warned of the “very distinct possibility” of invasion on Friday. Specifically, Sullivan addressed a report from PBS NewsHour foreign affairs and defense correspondent Nick Schifrin, which suggested the U.S. now knows whether Putin plans to invade.
“We do not believe, or we don’t know, that he [Putin] has made any final decision,” Sullivan said.
Schifrin, citing “three Western and defense officials,” reported earlier Friday that the U.S. “believes … Putin has decided to invade Ukraine.” Schifrin also reported that the invasion is expected “to begin next week.”
While Sullivan denied PBS NewsHour’s reporting, his comments do indicate the administration is growing increasingly concerned of a Russian invasion.
“We can’t pinpoint the day and we can’t pinpoint the hour, but what we can say is that there’s a credible prospect that a Russian military action could take place before the end of the Olympics,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan urged American citizens to depart from Ukraine “as soon as possible,” giving the specific suggestion of fleeing within “the next 24 to 48 hours.”
The national security advisor also warned that “there’s no prospect of a U.S. military evacuation action in the event of a Russian invasion,” and explained what officials believe could occur if Putin moves forward.
“If a Russian attack on Ukraine proceeds, it is likely to begin with aerial bombing and missile attacks that could obviously kill civilians without regard to their nationality,” Sullivan explained. “A subsequent ground invasion would involve the onslaught of a massive force, with virtually no notice communications to arrange a departure could be severed and commercial transit halted.”
“No one would be able to count on air or rail or road departures once military action got underway,” he added. “Now again, I’m not standing here and saying what is going to happen or not happen. I’m only standing here to say that the risk is now high enough and the threat is immediate enough.”
Amid the growing concerns, Biden held a call with transatlantic leaders on Friday morning. The leaders of Canada, the European Union, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Romania, Britain and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] were on the call, according to the White House.
“The leaders expressed their concern about Russia’s continued build-up of military forces around Ukraine and reaffirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a readout of the call. “They expressed their desire for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, and discussed recent engagements with Russia in multiple formats.”
“The leaders agreed on the importance of coordinated efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine, including their readiness to impose massive consequences and severe economic costs on Russia should it choose military escalation, and to continue reinforcing the defensive posture on NATO’s eastern flank. They committed to continued close consultation, including working with and through NATO, the EU, the OSCE, and the UN,” the readout added.
Biden departed the White House after Friday’s press briefing with White House press secretary Jen Psaki and Sullivan. He plans to spend the weekend at Camp David, which Psaki assured reporters is “fully equipped to have engagements of all sorts.”