WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden will update the nation on Tuesday afternoon on the evolving crisis at Ukraine’s border with Russia.
Speaking from the East Room of the White House at 3:30 p.m. ET, Biden is expected to reiterate U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Biden is also slated to say that his administration is still open to high-level diplomacy should Russian President Vladimir Putin elect to deescalate tensions.
For months, the U.S. and its Western allies have watched a steady buildup of Kremlin forces along Ukraine’s border with Russia and Belarus. The increased military presence mimics Russia’s playbook ahead of its 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea, a peninsula on the Black Sea, which sparked international uproar and triggered sanctions against Moscow.
The Kremlin has denied that the more than 100,000 Russian troops outfitted with advanced military equipment along Ukraine’s borders are preparing for an invasion. Earlier on Tuesday, Russia’s Ministry of Defense said that some of its forces previously deployed to its borders are in the process of leaving. The news prompted the stock market to jump and snap a three-day losing streak.
But Biden’s Ambassador to NATO downplayed the Kremlin’s claim on a call with reporters on Tuesday.
“In late December, there were some similar claims that came out of Moscow that they were de-escalating and in fact, facts on the ground did not support that claim,” Julianne Smith said. “This is something that we’ll have to look at closely and verify and in the days ahead,” she added.
Biden, who spoke to Putin on Saturday from Camp David, warned his Russian counterpart that if there is a further invasion of Ukraine, Washington and its allies will impose “swift and severe costs.”
Biden said that while the U.S. remains prepared to engage in diplomacy, “we are equally prepared for other scenarios.”
Biden’s call with Putin, which lasted about an hour, was followed up on Sunday with a separate phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The two leaders also spoke for an hour.
Over the weekend, Biden’s national security advisor Jake Sullivan gave a grim description of what a Russian invasion of Ukraine might look like and urged Americans to depart the country immediately.
“If there is a military invasion of Ukraine by Russia, it’s likely to begin with a significant barrage of missiles and bomb attacks,” Sullivan said on Sunday.
“It would then be followed by an onslaught of a ground force moving across the Ukrainian frontier,” he said, adding that there would be a substantial number of civilians caught in the crossfire.
Sullivan said that in the past 10 days the Kremlin has accelerated its extraordinary military buildup. Russia’s current force posture in the region could “launch a military action very, very rapidly,” he said.
On Monday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken closed the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and directed diplomatic staff to relocate to the western city of Lviv.
The closure of the embassy compound in Kyiv follows repeated warnings for U.S. citizens to immediately leave Ukraine.
A senior State Department official told reporters on a call Saturday that it was “past time for private citizens to leave Ukraine.”
“American citizens should not expect that the U.S. military is going to rescue them in Ukraine at the last minute. That’s not going to be happening in this scenario. And that’s why it is past time for them to leave Ukraine,” the official said, adding that “there are real limits to what we are able to do in a war zone.”
Over the weekend, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered U.S. troops who deployed to Ukraine last year to leave the country and reposition elsewhere in Europe. In November, 160 members of the Florida National Guard, assigned to the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, deployed to Ukraine to train with local forces.
“This repositioning does not signify a change in our determination to support Ukraine’s Armed Forces, but will provide flexibility in assuring allies and deterring aggression,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby wrote in a statement Saturday announcing the new marching orders.