White House planning for Ukraine evacuation if Russia invades: report

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The Biden administration is laying out contingency plans to evacuate Americans from Ukraine should Russia launch an invasion, according to a new report.

The report by CNN, which cited half a dozen sources, emerged shortly before President Biden held a virtual call with Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Moscow’s massive troop buildup along the Ukrainian border.

The planning is reportedly being led by the Pentagon, which has laid out several different evacuation scenarios — including one in which nonessential US government employees are removed and a larger plan in which all American are flown out.

The report noted that there was no need for Americans to leave Ukraine at this time. The country’s international airports are still operating and land borders with its other neighbors remain open. The State Department would make the ultimate call about whether evacuations are necessary.

 Russian troops board landing vessels after drills in Crimea
Russian troops board landing vessels in April after drills in Crimea.
Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File

Some sources told CNN that the US wants to avoid being caught “flat-footed” and forced to undertake a chaotic evacuation similar to what happened in Afghanistan at the end of August. Officials have reportedly said that whatever happens in Ukraine would most likely not resemble the scenes of chaos and terror at Kabul’s international airport.

Last month, the US Embassy issued a security alert informing American citizens of “concerning reports” about Russian military activity near the Ukraine border and warning that the situation could change at any time.

It is unclear how many US citizens are currently living or traveling in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that senior State Department official Victoria Nuland held a “gloomy” briefing with senators Monday evening in which she outlined the sanctions that are being prepared against Moscow should an invasion take place.

This satellite image provided by Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies taken on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021 shows a Russian troop location in the Yevpatoria municipality, in Crimea.
This satellite image taken on Sunday shows a Russian troop location in the Yevpatoria municipality, in Crimea.
Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies via AP

However, a person familiar with the briefing told the outlet that Nuland admitted to lawmakers that the moves the US can make to prevent a Russian incursion are limited.

During their Tuesday call, Biden was expected to warn Putin of “very real costs,” including “substantial” economic sanctions, if Russia moves forward with military action.

The US has not confirmed whether Putin plans to invade Ukraine and Russian officials have denied any such ambition. However, top US officials still see it as a strong possibility, given that Russia has gathered enough forces and equipment along the border to move at any time.

If Russia does invade, the Washington Post reported last week — citing an intelligence document and US officials — such an offensive could take place as soon as early next year and involve up to 175,000 troops.

Victoria Nuland
State Department official Victoria Nuland reportedly held a “gloomy” briefing with senators Monday evening.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin
President Biden was expected to warn Russian President Vladimir Putin of “very real costs” should he launch an invasion.
EPA/MIKHAEL METZEL / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL

The White House has said it will continue to back America’s European allies in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

“I think you could anticipate that in the event of an invasion, the need to reinforce the confidence and reassurances of our NATO allies and our eastern flank allies would be real,” a senior administration official said Monday while previewing the Biden-Putin call. “And the United States would be prepared to provide that reassurance.”

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