The Joe Biden administration has predicted doom and death in Ukraine, while Ukrainian and Russian leaders both downplay the danger in the region. What will happen is anyone’s guess. In Foreign Policy’s Morning Brief, Colm Quinn explains the situation, writing:
If U.S. intelligence reports are to be believed, it’s going to be a jittery week in Washington, with a Russian invasion of Ukraine even given a potential start date.
While the intelligence leak to the Associated Press indicates a Wednesday invasion plan, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was less precise, but apparently just as certain. “We cannot perfectly predict the day, but we have now been saying for some time that we are in the window,” he told CNN on Sunday.
In Moscow, Russian officials have expressed befuddlement and exasperation with Western predictions of impending war. Kremlin foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov has ridiculed U.S. warnings as “hysteria,” following an hourlong call between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also took a turn in the prediction game, forecasting that any removal of Russian forces around Ukraine would be heralded as a victory for Western pressure instead of what Russia had planned all along.
“After Russian troops finish drills and return to barracks, the West will declare ‘diplomatic victory’ by having ‘secured’ Russian ‘de-escalation’,” Russia’s foreign ministry quoted him as saying following a phone call with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
Away from the world of U.S. intelligence, there is reason to be wary of a spark igniting a conflict. On Sunday, a spokesman for pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s Luhansk region warned of an impending assault by Ukrainian government forces, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.
With confusion swirling, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will become the latest Western leader to gauge Moscow’s thinking when he visits Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. He visits Ukraine today to meet with President Volodomyr Zelensky.
A BBC broadcast in which Ukraine’s ambassador to Britain seemed to suggest that Kyiv might be willing to drop its ambitions to join NATO raised eyebrows on Sunday; that idea was quickly quashed on Monday morning by the ambassador himself and the Ukrainian foreign ministry.
Meanwhile, in Kyiv… In Kyiv, it’s a different story, with Zelensky once again calling for calm. “Right now, the people’s biggest enemy is panic,” Zelensky said, adding that he hadn’t seen any intelligence reporting that pointed to an imminent invasion.
On a call with Biden on Sunday, the Ukrainian president invited Biden to come to Kyiv to help send “a powerful signal and help stabilize the situation,” according to the Ukrainian government. The White House readout of the call made no mention of the invitation.
FP’s Amy Mackinnon just returned from Kyiv and summed up the scene on the ground:
“On Friday as National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan took to the podium in the White House briefing room to issues a dire warning that a renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine may be days away, I was at dinner in Kyiv with a mix of Ukrainians and Americans.”
“News of the press conference rippled round the table and we were soon all staring at our phones. As I rebooked my flight home then and there, I looked around as other diners in the restaurant continued to enjoy their evenings in peace.”
“This about summarizes the puzzling mismatch in alarm between Kyiv and Washington. On the surface, all was calm in the Ukrainian capital this past week. Many people I spoke to say they have gotten used to Russia’s efforts to destabilize their country.”
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