Biden administration considers options to possibly evacuate US citizens from Ukraine in the event of an invasion of Russia
Contingency planning is led by the Pentagon, the sources said, and comes as the administration briefs Congress on how the United States is preparing. In a “grim” briefing to senators by senior State Department official Victoria Nuland on Monday evening, Nuland described the tough sanctions package prepared by the administration in response to a potential Russian attack, but acknowledged that United States to deter an invasion is quite limited, said a person familiar with the briefing.
It is still unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin made the decision to invade, US officials said. But he amassed enough forces, equipment and supplies near Ukraine’s borders that he could attack on very short notice.
The administration currently sees no need for evacuations, the sources stressed: Airlines still operate from Ukraine’s international airports, and land borders with Ukraine’s western neighbors are open. Discussions are part of planning in case the security situation deteriorates seriously, said several officials involved in the planning.
âThe Department of Defense is a planning organization and must be prepared to deal with all kinds of eventualities around the world. We think a lot about many scenarios. But there is no signal to call for evacuations. civilians in Ukraine, and it would be wrong to conclude that there is an active effort at the Pentagon to prepare for it, “Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
The Department of Defense and the State Department have plans ready for worst-case scenarios in countries around the world, and the plans are updated and amended in light of the situation on the ground. But an evacuation of diplomatic personnel from Ukraine remains highly unlikely. Even though Ukraine is not a member of NATO, the White House views the country as a key ally of Eastern Europe, and there is a strategic advantage in the presence of US diplomats and forces. training in Ukraine. This makes a reduction of the American footprint there much less likely than, for example, the reduction of American diplomats and troops in Afghanistan.
Kiev, which is the only city where the United States has a diplomatic presence in Ukraine, is hundreds of kilometers from Crimea or the Russian-Ukrainian border, where Moscow has assembled forces. Such a move would be a propaganda victory for Putin, sending a message that the Russian leader can influence US policies and diplomatic presence in Ukraine.
Right now, the Pentagon is planning a number of different scenarios should an evacuation be required, ranging from a smaller evacuation of non-essential U.S. government employees to a larger one involving a larger number of U.S. citizens. , the sources said.
The State Department would be responsible for ultimately determining whether an evacuation is necessary. Currently, State Department diplomatic security is planning an authorized or ordered departure of diplomats from the country if the situation warrants it, a source familiar with the discussions said.
“We don’t know if Putin decided to use force, but what we do know is that he is putting the Russian military, the Russian security forces in a place where they could act quite drastically.” , said the director of the CIA. Bill Burns said Monday at a Wall Street Journal CEO Council summit.
The administration wants to avoid getting caught “flat feet”
Several sources noted that the planning wave follows the massive US evacuation of Afghanistan, which lawmakers criticized as poorly planned after images showing chaos at Kabul airport were released.
The United States does not want to be caught off guard in the event of an unexpected invasion, a source familiar with the matter said. The military put in place a similar contingency plan for US personnel stationed in Ethiopia, where an ongoing conflict between rebel groups and the central government continued to deteriorate.
Still, officials stressed that any potential evacuation in Ukraine would likely not resemble the massive U.S. effort to evacuate all U.S. citizens from Afghanistan earlier this year.
Nuland, the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, said on Tuesday that a range of 10 to 15,000 Americans are currently in Ukraine – a number that tends to fluctuate around the Christmas period, as more and more people are visiting.
“If we are concerned about the impending hostilities in Ukraine, we will begin to warn American citizens as we do all over the world … that it is time for them to return home,” Nuland said in an interview with Jake Tapper from CNN on “The Head.”
Typically, if a security situation deteriorates, the U.S. Embassy will increase its messages to U.S. citizens advising them to leave the country on commercial flights, and will offer assistance to those who cannot afford it. to do.
The U.S. Embassy in Kiev has not issued any new notices urging U.S. citizens to consider leaving Ukraine. The latest security alert was issued in late November, informing US citizens “of reports of unusual Russian military activity near the borders of Ukraine and in occupied Crimea.”
âUS citizens are reminded that security conditions along the border can change with little or no notice,â he said.
The State Department has long warned US citizens against travel to Crimea due to the conflict – and the entire country is currently on Level 4: Do Not Travel Advisory Due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some sources have warned that any effort to evacuate Ukraine – if carried out under military pressure from Russia – would present an extremely complex logistical challenge. A recent US intelligence assessment found that Russia could prepare to invade as early as next month with up to 175,000 troops arriving from positions near Ukraine’s southern, western and northeastern borders.
On Capitol Hill and in parts of the Pentagon, pressure is mounting for the United States to supply Ukraine with new anti-tank and anti-armor missiles Javelin – something that would almost certainly make no strategic difference to the capability of the United States. ‘Ukraine to defend itself. a large-scale invasion by Russia, but it could buy time.
NATO allies “have met and will continue to meet to determine, from the full range of political and military tools available, what they wish to do,” a senior Western intelligence official told CNN in a recent interview. The United States is also taking steps to plan additional deployments of U.S. troops to Europe on NATO’s eastern flank to help reassure allies of continued U.S. support in the event of an invasion, a senior official said on Monday. ‘administration.
“I think you can anticipate that in the event of an invasion, the need to build the confidence and assurances of our NATO allies and our Eastern Flank allies would be real. And the United States would be ready to provide. this assurance, “said the official. noted.
This story was updated with additional details on Tuesday.
CNN’s Michael Conte, Oren Liebermann, Kevin Liptak and Shawna Mizelle contributed to this report.