The Biden administration elevated its warnings Sunday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine may be imminent, saying Moscow could invade “at any time” and create a conflict that will result in “enormous human cost.”
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan made the assertions on multiple Sunday news talk shows as Republican leaders in Washington said the threat of invasion could have been avoided if the administration had supported Ukraine more robustly and taken a tougher posture toward Russian President Vladimir Putin months ago.
President Biden “laid the predicate for this. The deterrence has not been there,” said Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Mr. McCaul said during an appearance on ABC’s “This Week” program that the White House “failed to provide not only the lethal aid to Ukraine but also the sanctions necessary” to stop Mr. Putin.
Mr. McCaul referred specifically to Mr. Biden’s waiver last year of Russia sanctions that a bipartisan clutch of lawmakers sought to impose with the goal of stopping Moscow’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Germany.
The construction of that pipeline is seen to be handing Mr. Putin control over European energy supplies and increasing his leverage on U.S. allies there.
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In his comments to NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Mr. Sullivan suggested that the administration has begun reconsidering its position on the Nord Stream issue and is prepared to impose sanctions swiftly if Russian forces don’t back away from Ukraine.
“If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” the national security adviser said. “Russia understands that. We are coordinated with our allies on that, and that will be the reality if Russia chooses to move forward.”
Still, Mr. Sullivan and other administration officials stressed that efforts are on a diplomatic solution to lower tensions and stave off a Russian invasion.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told CNN’s “State of the Union” program that the administration was still seeking a diplomatic solution, but “at the same time, we know that the Russians continue to prepare, and we will be working to address the security issues.”
The White House said in a statement Sunday that Mr. Biden had spoken via telephone with French President Emmanuel Macron, who was slated to arrive Monday in Moscow for direct talks with Mr. Putin.
Administration officials said Mr. Biden and Mr. Macron discussed ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts, affirmed their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and agreed that their teams will remain in touch and continue consulting with other allies.
Mr. Biden is set to meet separately with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday at the White House. Mr. Scholz, who is also then slated to travel to Russia for meetings with Mr. Putin over the coming days, has said Moscow will pay a “high price” in the event of an attack on Ukraine.
The Scholz government has, however, refused to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, bolster its troop presence in Eastern Europe or spell out which sanctions it would support against Russia.
This vagueness has drawn criticism abroad and at home.
Meanwhile, elite U.S troops and equipment landed Sunday in southeastern Poland near the border with Ukraine, following Biden’s orders to deploy 1,700 soldiers there.
Hundreds more troops from the 82nd Airborne Division are expected to arrive at the Rzeszow-Jasionka Airport. A U.S. Air Force Boeing C-17 Globemaster plane brought a few dozen troops and vehicles.
Mr. Biden ordered additional U.S. troops deployed to Poland, Romania and Germany to demonstrate American commitment to NATO’s eastern flank. Poland and Romania both border Ukraine.
The division can rapidly deploy within 18 hours and conduct parachute assaults to secure key objectives. The division, based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, dates back to 1917.
Mr. Sullivan, who appeared Sunday ABC’s “This Week” and “Fox News Sunday,” said that “if war breaks out, it will come at an enormous human cost to Ukraine, but we believe that based on our preparations and our response, it will come at a strategic cost to Russia as well.”
He did not directly address reports that the White House has briefed lawmakers that a full Russian invasion could lead to the quick capture of Kyiv and potentially result in as many as 50,000 casualties as he made appearances on a trio of Sunday talk shows.
U.S. officials, who discussed internal assessments of the Russian buildup on the condition of anonymity, sketched out a series of indicators suggesting that Mr. Putin intends to start an invasion in the coming weeks, although the size and scale are unclear.
Among the indicators: An exercise of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces that usually is held each fall was rescheduled for mid-February to March. That coincides with what U.S. officials see as the most likely window for invasion.
Officials have said they believe the Russian military has assembled 70% of the forces it would need to mount a full invasion of Ukraine.
Last week, the administration said intelligence showed the Kremlin had worked up an elaborate plot to fabricate an attack by Ukrainian forces that Russia could use as a pretext to take military action against its neighbor.
The stepping-up of such warnings has attracted scrutiny from journalists.
The Associated Press published an article over the weekend asserting that when asked for evidence to back its claims, administration officials have demurred with a simple rejoinder: You’ll have to trust us.
The scrutiny appears to have struck a nerve, resulting in barbed interactions between reporters and both White House press secretary Jen Psaki and State Department spokesperson Ned Price.
Mr. Price notably sparred with lead AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee on Thursday after U.S. officials said Russia was preparing a “false flag” operation as the opening act for an invasion of Ukraine.
The suspected scheme included a staged explosion and enlisting actors to portray people mourning the dead.
“Where is the declassified information?” Mr. Lee asked.
“I just delivered it,” Mr. Price said.
“No, you made a series of allegations,” Mr. Lee responded.
Mr. Price then said U.S. officials needed to protect “sources and methods.”
After a contentious back and forth, the State Department spokesperson said that if reporters want to “find solace in information that the Russians are putting out, that is for you to do.”
He later walked back his comments.
With that as a backdrop over the weekend, some Republican lawmakers backed up the claims that a Russian invasion may be imminent.
“The noose is being prepared,” Mr. McCaul told ABC. “It’s around Ukraine as we speak right now. These are dangerous times. Time is of the essence. This would be the largest invasion in Europe since World War II.”
Mr. McCaul said the question of why Ukraine is important is a “great question.”
He said U.S. adversaries, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, are closely watching activities around Ukraine.
“If Putin can go into Ukraine with no resistance, certainly Xi will take Taiwan,” the Texas Republican said. “He’s always wanted this.”
Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Ukraine was the first part of Mr. Putin’s plan to reassemble the Soviet Union.
“He needs to choke on trying to swallow Ukraine because if it’s easy pickings for him, my worry is that then China moves against Taiwan and Iran moves quickly to a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Barrasso said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.