In his administration's starkest analysis yet of Russian President Vladimir Putin's plans, President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he believes Russia will invade Ukraine.
"My guess is he will move in," Biden said of Putin during his first press conference in roughly 10 months. "He has to do something."
But Biden also reiterated that Russia would face steep economic consequences if Putin pressed forward with an invasion. "He's never seen sanctions like the ones I promised will be imposed if he moves," Biden said, though he also indicated that sanctions would vary on the level of attack Putin takes.
"It's one thing if it's a minor incursion and we end up having to fight about what to do and not do," the president said.
Biden's analysis comes after months of observations that Russia has been amassing hundreds of thousands of troops and equipment along its border with Ukraine.
An Aging Vladimir Putin Hopes War Can Make a Sagging Empire Rise Again
But administration assessments have largely wavered on whether Putin has actually decided to invade Ukraine.
A senior administration official told The Daily Beast this week that they expect action to take place between mid-January and mid-February. Putin, the official said, is planning to use Russian operatives to conduct sabotage against Russian forces in order to create a justification to attack Ukraine.
In recent days, the calculus for Russia appears to have shifted to some degree-Russia has deployed troops to Belarus, ostensibly as part of "drills." But a senior State Department official said during a call Tuesday that Russia may just be using Belarus as a way to launch an attack on Ukraine from the north.
"The timing is notable and of course raises concern that Russia could intend to station troops in Belarus under the guise of joint military exercises… in order to potentially attack Ukraine from the north," the senior State Department official said.
Given the sheer amount of troop movement towards Ukraine that Russia has coordinated in recent days-and the amount of expenditure that takes-military action looks extremely possible, said Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior director of the White House Situation Room and former CIA Chief of Staff.
"The amount of military deployment that's going on is extremely large. That's an incredible expenditure of money and resources on the part of the Russians," Pfeiffer told The Daily Beast. "There can be an argument made that at a certain point, that kind of expenditure, you're going to move all that stuff there, you're going to go forward with the military action."
At this rate, Putin could attack Ukraine "at very short notice," Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Wednesday during a visit in Kiev, Ukraine.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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