The Biden administration warned on Wednesday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would trigger “high impact” U.S. sanctions that would surpass any previously imposed on Moscow.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking in the Latvian capital of Riga after meeting with his NATO counterparts, said Russia’s large-scale troop buildup on Ukraine’s border and other pressure tactics resembled steps Moscow took before it invaded Ukraine in 2014 and seized the Crimean peninsula.
“Now, we’ve seen this playbook before in 2014, when Russia last invaded Ukraine. Then as now they significantly increased combat forces along the border. Then as now they intensified disinformation to paint Ukraine as the aggressor to justify pre-planned military action,” Blinken said.
But it remained unclear if Russian President Vladimir Putin planned to order an invasion, Blinken told reporters.
“Now, we don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade," he said. "We do know that he’s putting in place the capacity to do so in short order should he so decide. So despite uncertainty about intentions, and time, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see to it that Russia reverses course."
CIA Director William Burns recently traveled to Moscow to convey Washington’s concerns, to urge a return to diplomacy to resolve the conflict between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukraine government, and to make clear “the severe consequences should Russia follow the path of confrontation in military action,” Blinken said.
“We’ve made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high impact economic measures that we have refrained from pursuing in the past,” Blinken said.
Russia has deployed tens of thousands of combat troops on Ukraine’s border but has denied any aggressive plans toward Ukraine, saying it is only responding to what it calls provocative actions by Ukraine and NATO countries.
Blinken said the U.S. is urging Russia to reverse its troop buildup, pull back heavy weapons and recommit to the diplomatic process set up to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“That’s how we can turn back from a crisis that will have far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for our bilateral relations with Moscow, for Russia’s relations with Europe and for international peace and security,” Blinken said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier that Russia would face serious political and economic consequences if it invades Ukraine.
The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence said recently that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.
Ukraine, which wants to join the NATO military alliance, received deliveries of U.S. ammunition and Javelin missiles earlier this year, prompting criticism from Moscow.