Discussions over the proposed lethal aid package are underway as Ukraine has begun publicly warning that an invasion is possible as early as January. The source said the package could include new Javelin anti-tank and anti-armor missiles as well as mortars.
Air defense systems, such as fuze missiles, are also being considered, and the Ministry of Defense has urged some of the equipment already shipped to Afghanistan – like the Mi-17 helicopter – to be sent to Ukraine instead. . The Mi-17 is a Russian helicopter that the US bought initially to give to the Afghans. The Pentagon is currently pondering what to do with them after the US pulls out of Afghanistan in August.
However, others in the administration are concerned that sending helicopters and helicopters could be seen by Russia as a major escalation. And while it prepares to send some military advisers to the region, it is not yet clear whether any advisers will go into Ukraine itself, the people said.
Retired lieutenant colonel Cedric Leighton told CNN that the Javelin anti-tank missile is “quite effective against the T-80 tanks that the Russians are actually using in their efforts against Ukraine right now.” But he noted that any additional support for Ukraine certainly risks “adding tensions” with Moscow.
Meanwhile, US officials are in discussions with European allies about introducing a new package of sanctions that would go into effect if Russia invades Ukraine, the sources said. And lawmakers are also joking about new punitive language to include in the National Defense Authorization Act.
The discussions reflect how seriously the Biden administration and Congress are considering the possibility that Russia could launch a second invasion of Ukraine, a strategic US ally, in a decade. And American officials are determined not to be taken by surprise by a Russian military campaign, like the Obama administration in 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea and fueled an uprising in parts of eastern Ukraine.
“Our concern is that Russia could make a serious mistake in trying to undo what it did back in 2014, when it massed its forces along the border into sovereign Ukraine. and falsely claimed that they were provoked,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Antony Blinken said last week.
Russia’s foreign intelligence agency, SVR, dismissed US warnings of a potential invasion, calling them “completely untrue” in a statement on Monday.
Sergei Ivanov, Head of Press Department of SVR, said: “The US State Department, through diplomatic channels, gives its allies and partners completely untrue information about the concentration of forces on the territory of Vietnam. territory to launch a military invasion of Ukraine.
For weeks, the United States has been sharing intelligence with NATO partners and European allies about unusual Russian troop movements near the Ukrainian border that U.S. military and intelligence officials believe may be relevant. could be the premise for a military campaign on the country’s eastern flank. U.S., European and Ukrainian sources familiar with the discussions said the briefings had gone much further than before in terms of level of alarm and specificity.
Ukraine’s tone has also changed dramatically since the brief US announcement. At the beginning of the month, Ukrainian officials downplayed reports that Russia was massing forces near the border. Now, after extensive meetings between US and Ukrainian officials, Ukraine’s director of defense intelligence, Brig. General Kyrylo Budanov is openly warning that Russia is building offensive capabilities as early as January – a timeline that is consistent with the US assessment.
However, officials say Russia’s final plan remains unclear. “There is no smoke gun or decisive indication of Putin’s intentions,” a defense official said. And it is possible that the maneuvers are an attempt to sow confusion or force concessions from the west, rather than a prelude to an invasion.
The United States, however, still warns of the possibility of a worst-case scenario where Moscow attempts regime change in Kiev, driven largely by Putin’s determination to keep Ukraine out of the West and potentially. possibility of joining NATO.
“You cannot achieve that goal by gouging another part of the eastern Donetsk region,” said a person familiar with the intelligence. “It must be something more. If it is [Putin’s] goal, then you don’t do it by doing something small. ”
American officials have also shared with senior Ukrainian officials evidence that Russia, through the FSB – Russia’s successor to the KGB – is engaging in destabilizing activities inside Ukraine to incite dissent against the administration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. They also point to the presence of Spetsnaz special forces and GRU and SVR intelligence forces near the Ukrainian border.
Ukrainian defense officials predict that Russia could use the dozens of combat battalions currently stationed near the Ukrainian border to launch a multi-pronged attack, including from annexed Crimea, according to the assessment. prices of the Ukrainian army.
American officials are closely monitoring Russian activity in Crimea, where Russia sent troops and military units in the spring as part of what they claim are exercises. Although the Russian Defense Ministry ordered the withdrawal of at least some troops in April, several factors remained, according to Ukrainian assessments and well-informed sources.
Moving in Parliament
Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican lawmakers have added proposed amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2022 to address Russia’s latest provocations, but they have yet to sign it. into the final version.
An amendment proposed by Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, reviewed by CNN, says that “substantial new sanctions should be imposed by President Joe Biden on senior officials of the Power The Kremlin – including Russian President Vladimir Putin – in the event of a Russian military escalation against Ukraine.The amendment also calls for additional sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline to Ukraine. are promoting.
The committee’s Republicans see the Nord Stream sanctions language as a positive step, sources said, but want the amendment to automatically trigger sanctions in the event of Russian encroachment. rather than leaving the decision-making power in the hands of the government.
Germany, which has been involved in the pipeline project with Russia, recently announced that it is suspending the pipeline certification process. However, Ukraine also wants to see the US do more to stop the pipeline, which it says Russia is weaponizing to weaken Ukraine by cutting it off from its energy and revenue supplies heading into winter. an adviser to Zelensky told CNN.
While the Biden administration is warning of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, its most senior officials are on Capitol Hill trying to protect Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline by lobbying against against the inclusion of sanctions against the country in the annual defense bill,” the adviser said.
CNN’s Oren Liebermann contributed reporting.