Feb 17, 2022 - World

Blinken lays out Putin's playbook for Ukraine invasion at UN hearing

Blinken and Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday made the clearest statement to date that the U.S. believes Russia has decided to invade Ukraine within days, and laid out the U.S. view on how such a war will begin.

Why it matters: Speaking before the UN Security Council, Blinken said U.S. intelligence indicates Russia has now massed more than 150,000 troops near Ukraine, and is preparing to launch a full-scale invasion involving ground troops, aircraft and ships "in the coming days" that could target the capital, Kyiv.

Details: Blinken said U.S. intelligence suggests Russia's attack will unfold in several stages, starting with a manufactured pretext.

  • That could involve a "violent event" precipitated by Russia, or "an outrageous accusation" against Ukraine, Blinken said.
  • He cited the possibility of a "fabricated so-called terrorist bombing inside Russia, the invented discovery of a mass grave, a staged drone strike against civilians, or even a real attack using chemical weapons."
  • "Russia may describe this event as ethnic cleansing or a genocide, making a mockery of a concept that we in this chamber do not take lightly, nor do I take lightly, based on my family history," Blinken said.

Second, Blinken warned "the highest levels of the Russian government may theatrically convene emergency meetings to address the so-called crisis."

  • "The government will issue proclamations declaring that Russia must respond to defend Russian citizens or ethnic Russians in Ukraine," as Moscow did in Georgia in 2008, Blinken said.
  • He said Russian media would work to fan the outrage, and had already begun to do so.

Third, the attack will begin with Russian missiles and bombs across Ukraine, jammed communications, and cyberattacks designed to shut down "key Ukrainian institutions," Blinken said.

  • "After that, Russian tanks and soldiers will advance on to targets that have already been identified and mapped out in detailed plans," including Kyiv.

Between the lines: Blinken said he was outlining this intelligence to the global forum — where former Secretary of State Colin Powell famously gave a presentation in 2003 seeking to justify the invasion of Iraq — "not to start a war, but to prevent one."

  • Blinken recognized that some would doubt the U.S. claims, due to intelligence failures in the past, but insisted that the evidence in this case was clear.
  • “If Russia doesn’t invade, we will be relieved that Russia changed course and proved our predictions wrong," Blinken said.

The other side: Blinken was preceded by Russia's deputy foreign minister, who had urged him not to put himself in an "awkward position" by predicting an invasion.

  • They were both speaking at a hearing on the Minsk Accords, which were signed in 2014 and 2015 as part of the effort to resolve the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine.
  • He argued that Ukrainian officials were refusing to implement the agreement, which calls for a “special status” for areas of eastern Ukraine that are claimed by separatists.
  • He also detailed allegations from a "joint investigative committee" of the Russian government and RT Media that Ukraine has engaged in war crimes by killing civilians in Donbas. A U.S. official told reporters before the meeting that the allegations are "categorically false" and part of Russia's attempt to build a pretext for war.

What to watch: Russian media report that President Vladimir Putin is preparing to address the Russian legislature.

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