- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2022

Vice President Kamala Harris is headed to Germany for talks with the leaders of Ukraine and NATO at a long-planned security conference, just as fears of  Russian invasion of its neighbor surged again.

Ms. Harris left Washington Thursday for the high-profile annual conference in Munich, which begins Friday. She is scheduled to meet with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“The key objective for her trip now is to focus on this fast-changing, evolving situation — this tremendous challenge that we are facing now — to make sure that we are fully aligned with our allies and partners, and to make sure that we have sent a very clear message to Russia,” a senior administration official said. “Our preference is diplomacy and deterrence, but if Russia chooses aggression, we are ready. The U.S. is ready; our allies are ready.”

Even before Ms. Harris departed the U.S., top administration officials and allies were warning that Russia was building up more troops along its border with Ukraine, challenging assurances from Moscow this week that it had begun to pull back some of the more than 100,000 troops deployed near Ukraine’s borders.

President Biden said Thursday morning that the threat of a Russian invasion is “very high” and will likely occur within days.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters on Ms. Harris’ trip said Russia “has increased its troop presence along the Ukrainian border by as many as 7,000 troops, with some arriving as recently as [Wednesday].”

“Every indication we have now is they mean only to publicly offer to talk and make claims about de-escalation while privately mobilizing for war,” the official said. “We continue to receive indications that they could launch a false pretext at any moment to justify an invasion of Ukraine. That false pretext could take a number of different forms: a provocation in the Donbas; a claim about NATO activity by land, at sea, or in the air; an incursion into Russian territory.”

In Moscow, the Kremlin’s top spokesman again insisted Russia was not planning military action and mocked a new prediction that the invasion will come early next week, after the Olympics in Beijing end and a major Russian-Belarusian military exercise is supposed to conclude.

“It looks like another fake has been coined,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday in Moscow. “…There have been many dates [for an invasion], and far more specific ones,” he added. “All turned out to be falsehoods, irresponsible fakes, but none of their authors eventually acknowledged they were wrong.”

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

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