The White House says any Russia attack on Ukraine would be a ‘greater form of brutality’ than a typical war between two militaries and warns chances of diplomacy are diminishing ‘by the hour’, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday.
He said Russia plans to ‘crush’ Ukraine should it decide to go forward with a full-scale invasion.
‘We believe that any military operation of the size, scope and magnitude of what we believe the Russians are planning will be extremely violent,’ Sullivan told NBC News’ Today show on Monday morning. ‘It will cost the lives of Ukrainians and Russians, civilians and military personnel alike.’
‘But we also have intelligence to suggest that there will be an even greater form of brutality, because this will not simply be some conventional war between two armies,’ he continued.
‘It will be a war waged by Russia on the Ukrainian people to repress them, to crush them, to harm them. And that is what we laid out in detail for the U.N. because we believe that the world must mobilize to counter this kind of Russian aggression should those tanks roll across the border as we anticipate they very well may do in the coming hours or days.’
In a separate interview with ABC News’ morning program Good Morning America, Sullivan said there are only indications that Moscow is moving forward with plans to invade after snubbing Joe Biden’s offer for a summit on the caveat that Russia stands down.
The White House said Sunday that Biden had agreed ‘in principle’ to talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin brokered by France, provided war did not break out in the meantime.
‘It’s premature to talk about any specific plans for organizing any kind of summits,’ Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, adding that no ‘concrete plans’ had been put in place for a meeting.
Sullivan said Monday morning: ‘We never give up hope on diplomacy until the missiles fly or the tanks roll. But we have been working hard for months with our allies and partners to get Russia to sit down in a serious way at the table – even as recently as yesterday, the president has indicated his readiness to do that. Russia has not shown the same willingness on their side.’
‘The likelihood that there’s a diplomatic solution, given the movements – the troop movements of the Russians, is diminishing hour by hour,’ he said.
‘Unfortunately, we have called out at every stage of this what the Russians were going to do and they’re doing it.’
The White House is warning of a high scale of ‘brutality’ and ‘extreme violence’ Russians will have on Ukrainians – civilian and military – if they invade. Here U.S. troops load equipment onto vehicles in Rzeszow, Poland on Saturday, February 19
President Joe Biden deployed a few thousand troops from the 82nd and 18th Airborne Corps to assist in Eastern Europe
Russia continues to show their strength by engaging in military exercises near the border with Ukraine. Russian Defense Ministry released video on Saturday February 19 showing a cruise missile of the Iskander tactical missile system (pictured)
White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Monday that any Russian attack on Ukraine ‘will be extremely violent’ and a ‘greater form of brutality’ than a typical war between two militaries
Russian battle plans call for an ‘overwhelming intensity of fire’ on Ukraine that could kill ‘tens of thousands’ within the opening days of a conflict, the US has warned, as Putin moves his troops within three miles of the border.
Tanks, trucks and artillery have been spotted just two and a half miles from Ukrainian territory in Russia’s Belgorod region as new satellite images reveal convoys and troops hiding in civilian areas and the tree-lines of forests in Soloti and Valuyki – a short distance from Ukraine’s Kharkiv region where major military bases are located.
Despite warnings of a bloodbath between Ukraine and Russia, the Pentagon continues to insist that no U.S. troops will be put directly in harms way.
‘Is there a chance there will be U.S. men and women on the front line fighting and perhaps dying in this war?’ MSNBC Morning Joe co-host Willie Geist asked Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby.
‘No sir,’ he replied.
‘President Biden was very, very clear,’ Kirby continued, ‘there will not be American troops fighting inside Ukraine.’
Diplomacy is continuing despite the threat of war, though the Kremlin this morning downplayed the possibility of a meeting between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin next week – after Biden agreed ‘in principle’ to talks.
The next high-level negotiations between the two sides are due for Thursday this week, when Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet with the issue of Biden-Putin talks expected to be on the agenda.
Their meeting is also dependent on war not breaking out in the meantime.
At the same time, Russian military exercises in Belarus, which were due to end on Sunday, have been extended to an unspecified date, meaning 30,000 men plus ballistic missile launchers, artillery and tanks will remain in place on Ukraine’s northern border and within easy striking distance of Kiev.
Biden warned at the weekend that Putin has already given the order to attack, leaving the world guessing as to where and how hard the hammer will fall. American officials who claimed to have seen some of the Kremlin’s battle plans warned that a full scale bombardment of the country is being prepared.
‘We were told to expect tens of thousands of casualties in the opening days,’ one official told the New York Times.
Russia is also preparing a ‘hit list’ of targets for assassination or arrest once it has troops in Ukraine, US officials said, with political figures, anti-corruption activists, Belarusian and Russian dissidents and LGBT activists all on it.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said today that it appears Putin’s invasion plan has ‘already begun’, but that a ‘window for diplomacy’ still exists, while UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, after meeting with NATO, said an invasion appears ‘highly likely’ but insisted that diplomacy must be pursued.
‘As we’ve seen in the past, we expect Russia will try to force cooperation through intimidation and repression,’ a US official told Foreign Policy magazine.
‘These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions.
‘[That] includes Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBT persons.’
Russia has moved its forces to within three miles of the Ukrainian border, with tanks spotted on manoeuvres in Kursk (left) at the weekend and support trucks in Belgorod (right) on Monday
Satellite images reveal Russian tanks and armoured vehicles are now being concealed within civilian areas and forests close to the border, such as these vehicles on farmland near Soloti
Russian military vehicles are spotted formed up into a convoy and heading south next to a highway and near a forest in Soloti, around 10 miles from the Ukraine border
Americans in Russia told to evacuate WITHOUT help of U.S. government due to terrorist threats and warns Moscow could ‘severely restrict’ flights from Ukraine
Americans in Russia have been told to make plans to evacuate that doesn’t involve support from the U.S. government as Washington and the Kremlin tussle over a summit with President Biden and Vladimir Putin and intelligence warns 190,000 troops are ready to strike Ukraine.
The State Department cautioned Americans to flee Moscow and St. Petersburg, without the help of the U.S. government, amid warnings of terrorist attacks in the cities and warned U.S. citizens in Ukraine to get out as soon as possible because Moscow could ‘severely restrict’ air travel.
‘According to media sources, there have been threats of attacks against shopping centers, railway and metro stations, and other public gathering places in major urban areas, including Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as in areas of heightened tension along the Russian border with Ukraine,’ the warning issued on Sunday read.
Americans were told to avoid crowds, tell relatives if they are safe, carry around U.S. identification and ‘have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance’.
In a separate warning for Americans in Ukraine, the State Department wrote: ‘The security situation in Ukraine continues to be unpredictable throughout the country and may deteriorate with little notice. There is a strong likelihood that any Russian military operations would severely restrict commercial air travel.’
French President Emmanuel Macron said early Monday that he had suggested the summit to Putin and Biden to discuss ‘security and strategic stability in Europe.’
‘Presidents Biden and Putin have both accepted the principle of such a summit,’ the French president said, before adding that such a meeting would be impossible if Russia invaded Ukraine as Western nations fear it plans.
The Kremlin on Monday morning downplayed the possibility of a summit next week – after the White House said that Biden had agreed ‘in principle’ to talks brokered by France, provided war did not break out in the meantime.
‘As the President has repeatedly made clear, we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins,’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Sunday night.
She said that U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet first on February 24 in Europe to hammer out the terms of the confab between the two heads of state.
After the Blinken/Lavrov pow-wow, the two presidents will meet if all goes well.
There are now thought to be 190,000 Russian troops on the border of Ukraine comprising around three quarters of its conventional forces backed by 500 fighter jets, 50 heavy bombers, and dozens of attack helicopters.
The Kremlin denies it has plans to attack, but Western allies say Putin is trying to concoct a pretext to invade by stirring up conflict in two breakaway eastern regions – Donetsk and Luhansk – and staging ‘false flag’ attacks to justify marching his troops in on a mission to ‘protect’ them.
Heavy shelling was reported along the frontline at the weekend, leaving several Ukrainian troops dead, following what Russian state media claimed were terror attacks targeting top officials and a gas pipeline in the two regions – which the West said was staged.
The Kremlin has also been pushing claims that ‘mass graves’ containing the bodies of civilians killed by Ukrainian troops have been discovered in the region, and today submitted documents containing those allegations to the UN Security Council.
Hundreds of thousands of civilians – mostly women, children and the elderly – are now being evacuated from rebel-held areas into Russia due to the ‘threat’. Fighting-age men have been ordered to stay behind under the threat of legal sanctions if they try to leave.
In what appeared to be a last-ditch diplomatic gambit brokered with the aid of French President Emmanuel Macron, the White House said Biden has agreed ‘in principle’ to a meeting with Putin as long as he holds off on launching an assault.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration has been clear that ‘we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins.’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are set to meet on Thursday in Europe – as long as Russia does not send its troops into Ukraine beforehand.
‘We are always ready for diplomacy. We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war,’ Psaki said in statement.
‘And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon.’
Despite the threat, life in the capital Kiev outwardly continued as usual for many Sunday, with brunches and church services, ahead of what Biden said late last week was an already decided-upon Russian attack.
Katerina Spanchak, who fled a region of eastern Ukraine when it was taken over by Russian-allied separatists, was among worshippers crowded into the capital’s St. Michael’s monastery, smoky with the candles burned by the faithful, to pray that Ukraine be spared.
‘We all love life, and we are all united by our love of life,’ Spanchak said, pausing to compose herself. ‘We should appreciate it every day. That’s why I think everything will be fine.’
‘Our joint prayers will help to elude this tragedy, which is advancing,’ said another worshipper, who identified himself only by his first name, Oleh.
A U.S. official said Sunday that Biden’s assertion that Putin has made the decision to roll Russian forces into Ukraine was based on intelligence that Russian front-line commanders have been given orders to begin final preparations for an attack. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive intelligence.
The United States and many European countries have charged for weeks that Putin has built up the forces he needs to invade Ukraine – a westward-looking democracy that has sought to move out of Russia’s orbit – and is now trying to create pretexts to invade.
Western nations have threatened massive sanctions if Putin does.
U.S. officials on Sunday defended their decision to hold off on their planned financial punishments of Russia ahead of any invasion, after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called passionately Saturday for the West to do more.
‘If you pull the trigger on that deterrent, well then, it doesn’t exist anymore as a deterrent,’ Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told Fox on Washington’s sanctions threat.
Russia held nuclear drills Saturday as well as the conventional exercises in Belarus, and has ongoing naval drills off the coast in the Black Sea.
The announcement that Russia was reversing its pledge to withdraw its forces from Belarus came after two days of sustained shelling along a contact line between Ukraine’s soldiers and Russian-allied separatists in eastern Ukraine, an area that Ukraine and the West worry could be the flashpoint in igniting conflict.
Polish and U.S. soldiers are seen before a meeting with their Defense chiefs at the 33rd Air Base near Powidz, Poland on February 18
This handout picture taken by Ukrainian Naval Forces Press Service and realised on February 21, 2022 shows Ukrainian tanks in an unknown location of Ukraine
This handout picture released on February 21, 2022 by the press service of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in an unknown location of Ukraine shows Ukrainian soldiers taking part in exercises
Images taken from a Ukrainian attack helicopter shows a combat flight exercise over the fields of Ukraine
Ukraine’s Armed Forces have been engaged in rigorous training exercises in recent weeks as they prepare for a potential invasion
Biden convened the National Security Council at the White House on Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine. White House officials released no immediate details of their roughly two hours of discussion.
‘We’re talking about the potential for war in Europe,’ U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris said earlier Sunday at a security conference in Munich, Germany, that saw urgent consultations among world leaders on the crisis. ‘It’s been over 70 years, and through those 70 years … there has been peace and security.’
Zelenskyy on Sunday appealed on Twitter for a cease-fire. Russia has denied plans to invade, but the Kremlin did not respond to Zelenskyy’s offer Saturday to meet with Putin.
After a call with Macron, Putin blamed Ukraine – incorrectly, according to observers there – for the escalation of shelling along the contact line and NATO for ‘pumping modern weapons and ammunition’ into Ukraine.
Macron, a leader in European efforts to broker a peaceful resolution with Russia, also spoke separately to Zelenskyy, to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and to Biden.
Blinken intentionally raised the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit in interviews with U.S. television networks on Sunday, in a bid to keep diplomacy alive, a senior U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss U.S. reasoning.
Blinken said that Biden was ‘prepared to meet President Putin at any time in any format if that can help prevent a war’ and the U.S. official said Macron had then conveyed the offer of talks to Putin – conditioned on Russia not invading – in his phone calls with the Russian leader.
Tensions mounted further, however. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow issued an advisory urging greater caution by Americans in Russia overall. ‘Have evacuation plans that do not rely on U.S. government assistance,’ it warned.
Immediate worries focused on eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting the pro-Russia rebels since 2014 in a conflict that has killed some 14,000 people.
In the eastern Ukraine regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, separatist leaders have ordered a full military mobilization and sent more civilians to Russia, which has issued about 700,000 passports to residents of the rebel-held territories. Claims that Russian citizens are being endangered might be used as justification for military action.
Officials in the separatist territories claimed Ukrainian forces launched several artillery attacks over the past day and that two civilians were killed during an unsuccessful assault on a village near the Russian border. Ukraine’s military said two soldiers died in firing from the separatist side on Saturday.
‘When tension is escalated to the maximum, as it is now, for example, on the line of contact, then any spark, any unplanned incident or any minor planned provocation can lead to irreparable consequences,’ Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in an interview that aired Sunday on Russian state television.
Biden convened a meeting of the National Security Council on Sunday to discuss the latest developments regarding Russia’s expected invasion of Ukraine. He also held a call with Macron
Russian attack helicopters are pictured taking part in joint drills in Belarus on Sunday, as the Kremlin announced the drills will not end as expected but will be extended to an unknown date – meaning 30,000 troops remain in the country
Smoke rises into the air after Russian attack helicopters blew up a target on a firing range in Belarus during joint training exercises on Sunday – amid fears of an invasion
Tanks and armoured vehicles of the Russian and Belarusian militaries take part in training exercises at the weekend, shortly before the Kremlin announced the drill will be extended and its forces will remain in the country
Russian and Belarussian machine-gunners take part in joint training exercises in Belarus at the weekend
Russian troop tents and tanks (left and centre) are seen near a forested area of the Belgorod region, close to the border with Ukraine, on Sunday amid fears the order to attack will be given soon
Russian troops and tanks (left) are shown parked up next to attack helicopters (centre) near the town of Valuyki, Belgorod region, close to the border with Ukraine
Russian tanks and trucks are seen parked in the tree line of a forest in the Belgorod region of Russia (right) in an apparent attempt to hide them from prying satellites
A satellite image shows an overview of a new deployment, east of Valuyki, Russia
On the front lines, Ukrainian soldiers said they were under orders not to return fire. Zahar Leshushun, peering into the distance with a periscope, had followed the news all day from a trench where he is posted near the town of Zolote.
‘Right now, we don’t respond to their fire because …’ the soldier said before the sound of an incoming shell interrupted him. ‘Oh! They are shooting at us now. They are aiming at the command post.’
On Friday, separatist officials announced the evacuation of civilians and military mobilization in the face of what they described as an imminent Ukrainian offensive on the rebel regions. Ukrainian officials have strongly denied any plans to launch such an attack and described the evacuation order as part of Russian provocations intended to set the stage for an invasion.
The separatist authorities said Monday that at least four civilians were killed by Ukrainian shelling over the past 24 hours and several others were injured. Ukraine’s military said two Ukrainian soldiers were killed over the weekend, and another serviceman was wounded Monday.
Ukrainian military spokesman Pavlo Kovalchyuk said the Ukrainian positions were shelled 80 times Sunday and eight times early Monday, noting that the separatists were ‘cynically firing from residential areas using civilians as shields.’ He insisted that Ukrainian forces weren’t returning fire.
In the village of Novognativka on the government-controlled side, 60-year-old Ekaterina Evseeva, said the shelling was worse than at the height of fighting early in the conflict.
‘It’s worse than 2014,’ she said, her voice trembling. ‘We are on the edge of nervous breakdowns. And there is nowhere to run.’
Evseeva said that residents were hunkering down in basements amid the renewed fighting: ‘Yesterday I saw my neighbor with her 2-month-old as she was running to the basement. It shouldn’t be like this.’
Moscow denies any plans to invade Ukraine, but wants Western guarantees that NATO won’t allow Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to join as members. It also urges the alliance to halt weapons deployments to Ukraine and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe – demands flatly rejected by the West.
Russian officials have shrugged off Western calls to deescalate by pulling back troops, arguing that Moscow is free to deploy troops and conduct drills wherever it likes on its territory. Last week, Western officials dismissed Russian statements about some of the troops returning to their bases, saying that Moscow was actually beefing up its forces around Ukraine.
A U.S. official said Sunday that Biden’s assertion last week that Putin has made the decision to roll Russian forces into Ukraine was based on intelligence that Russian front-line commanders have been given orders to begin final preparations for an attack. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive intelligence.
Russia also upped the ante Saturday with sweeping nuclear drills that included multiple practice launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles and cruise missiles that Putin personally oversaw.
Ukraine’s president reaffirmed his call for a quick meeting with Putin to help defuse tensions, but there was no response from the Kremlin.
The European Union’s top diplomat, foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, welcomed the prospect of a Biden-Putin summit but said that should diplomacy fail the 27-nation bloc has finalized its package of sanctions for use if Putin orders an invasion.
‘The work is done. We are ready,’ said Borrell, who is chairing a meeting of EU foreign ministers and was tasked with drawing up a list of people in Russia to be hit with asset freezes and travel bans. He provided no details about who might be targeted.
The European Commission has prepared other sanctions to ‘limit the access to financial markets for the Russian economy and (impose) export controls that will stop the possibility for Russia to modernize and diversify its economy,’ its president, Ursula von der Leyen, said over the weekend.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock welcomed Macron’s summit initiative and warned Russia against any false flag action to provoke hostilities. ‘I appeal urgently to the Russian government, to the Russian president: Don’t play with human lives,’ she said as she arrived at the EU top diplomats’ meeting.