Mar 25, 2022 - World

U.S. engaged in "contingency planning" for Russian strike on NATO territory

Jake Sullivan. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan confirmed Friday that he has tasked a special "Tiger Team" of experts to conduct contingency planning for the possibility that Russia uses chemical weapons in Ukraine or strikes NATO territory.

Why it matters: President Biden promised after a NATO summit in Brussels Thursday that the alliance "will respond" if Russia uses weapons of mass destruction, which officials fear has become increasingly likely as Ukraine's resistance continues to stall Russian advances.

  • Biden has ruled out sending U.S. troops into Ukraine, but Russia's claims that Western convoys delivering weapons to the Ukrainians are "legitimate targets" could test NATO's principle of collective defense, known as Article 5.
  • A Russian strike on a Ukrainian military site just 15 miles from the Polish border earlier this month also raised fears that the conflict could spill over into NATO territory.

What he's saying: Responding to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's insistence that Vladimir Putin will invade eastern European countries next, Sullivan said this is part of the reason Biden has ordered additional U.S. troops to deploy to NATO's eastern flank.

  • "We do believe that Russian aggression in Ukraine shows a willingness by the Russians to disregard international borders and to disregard the basic rules wrote by the international community that have been built and sustained over the course of seven decades," Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One.
  • Sullivan pointed to Russia's unprecedented military cooperation with Belarus, which borders NATO states Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, as an especially alarming development that reinforces the need for NATO to be prepared for all possibilities.
  • On chemical weapons, Sullivan said the nature of a U.S. and NATO response will depend on the nature of Russia's attack, but stressed that the U.S. "has no intention of using chemical weapons, period, under any circumstances."

What to watch: Biden is traveling on Friday to Rzeszów — a southeastern Polish town that has become a key hub for international aid to Ukraine — to meet with U.S. troops from the 82nd Airborne Division.

  • He'll meet on Saturday with refugees and humanitarian workers in Warsaw, as well as Polish President Andrzej Duda.
  • Sullivan said Biden will deliver a "major address" on Saturday that will "speak to the stakes of this moment" and where the U.S. sees the conflict in Ukraine going.

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