Contingency planning is led by the Pentagon, sources said, and comes as the administration briefs Congress on how the United States is preparing. In a “gloomy” briefing to Senators by senior State Department official Victoria Nuland on Monday night, Nuland outlined the harsh sanctions package being drafted by the administration in response to a potential Russian attack, but acknowledged that the United States’ ability to deter an invasion is quite limited, said a person familiar with the briefing.
It is still unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the decision to invade, U.S. officials stressed. But he has amassed enough forces, equipment and supplies near Ukraine’s borders to be able to attack at very short notice.
The administration does not currently see a need for evacuations, the sources stressed – airlines still operate from Ukraine’s international airports and the borders with Ukraine’s western neighbors are open. The discussions are part of the planning in case the security situation worsens seriously, stressed several officials involved in the planning.
“The Ministry of Defense is a planning organization and must be ready for any kind of emergency around the world. We think a lot about a lot of scenarios. But there is no signal of demand for civilian evacuations in Ukraine and it would be wrong to conclude that there is a active efforts in the Pentagon to prepare for them, “Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
The Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have plans ready for worst-case scenarios in countries around the world, and plans have been updated and changed in light of the situation on earth. However, the evacuation of diplomatic personnel from Ukraine remains highly unlikely. Although Ukraine is not a NATO member, the White House sees the country as a central Eastern European ally, and there is a strategic advantage in the presence of US diplomats and training forces in Ukraine. This makes a reduction in the US footprint there far less likely than, for example, the withdrawal of US diplomats and troops in Afghanistan.
Kiev, the only city where the United States has a diplomatic presence in Ukraine, is hundreds of kilometers from Crimea or the border between Ukraine and Russia, where Moscow has built up forces. Such a move would be a propaganda victory for Putin and send a message that the Russian leader can influence US policy and diplomatic presence in Ukraine.
Right now, the Pentagon is planning a variety of scenarios in the event that an evacuation is necessary, ranging from a minor evacuation of merely insignificant U.S. government employees to a larger one involving a wider range of U.S. citizens, the sources said.
The State Department would be responsible for ultimately determining whether an evacuation operation is necessary. Right now, planning is underway for the State Department’s diplomatic security for either an authorized or ordered departure of diplomats from the country, if the situation warrants it, said a source familiar with the discussions.
“We do not know that Putin has decided to use force, but what we do know is that he is putting the Russian military, the Russian security forces in a place where they could act in a fairly thorough manner,” the CIA director said. Bill Burns at a Wall Street Journal CEO summit Monday.
The administration will avoid being caught ‘flatfooted’
Several sources noted that the builder of planning is getting on the heels of the massive U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan, which lawmakers criticized as poorly planned after images surfaced showing chaos at Kabul airport.
The United States does not want to be caught “flat-footed” in the event of an unexpected invasion, said a source familiar with the matter. The military has similar contingency plans in place for U.S. personnel stationed in Ethiopia, where an ongoing conflict between rebel groups and the central government has continued to worsen.
Still, officials stressed that any potential evacuation in Ukraine would likely not resemble the massive U.S. effort to evacuate all U.S. citizens from Afghanistan earlier this year.
It is not clear how many US civilians are currently in Ukraine – US citizens are not required to register with the State Department when moving abroad.
Typically, if a security situation worsens, the U.S. Embassy increases its message to U.S. citizens to advise them to leave the country on commercial flights, and will offer assistance to those who cannot afford to do so.
The US Embassy in Kiev has not issued any new announcements urging US citizens to consider leaving Ukraine. The latest security alert was issued in late November, advising US citizens “on reports of unusual Russian military activity near Ukraine’s borders and in occupied Crimea.”
“U.S. citizens are being reminded that security conditions along the border may change with little or no notice,” it said.
The State Department has long warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Crimea because of the conflict – and the entire country is currently at level 4: Travel non-advisory due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Some sources warned that any evacuation effort from Ukraine – if carried out under military pressure from Russia – would be a massively complex logistical challenge. A recent assessment by US intelligence showed that Russia could prepare to invade as early as next month with as many as 175,000 troops from positions near Ukraine’s southern, western and northeastern borders.
On Capitol Hill and in some corners of the Pentagon, pressure is mounting for the United States to supply new Javelin anti-tank and anti-tank missiles to Ukraine – something that would almost certainly not make a strategic difference to Ukraine’s ability to fend off. a full-scale invasion of Russia, but may buy some time.
NATO allies “have met and will continue to meet to determine from the full range of available political and military tools what they want to do,” a senior Western intelligence official told CNN in a recent interview. The United States is also taking steps to plan further US troop deployments in Europe on NATO’s eastern flank to help reassure allies of continued US support in the event of an invasion, a senior administration official said Monday.
“I think you could foresee that in the event of an invasion, the need to strengthen the confidence and assurances of our NATO allies and our eastern flank allies would be real. And the United States would be prepared to provide that security,” the official said.
CNN’s Oren Liebermann and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.