Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg address the media prior the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defense ministerial meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 16, 2022.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg address the media prior the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) defense ministerial meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 16, 2022. DOD / Chad J. McNeeley

Biden Says Russia Will Attack Within ‘Several Days;’ Blinken Lobbies For Peace at UN

Russians “edge closer to that border,” with troops, combat aircraft, ships, and blood supplies, says Austin at NATO HQ.

President Joe Biden said Russia will attack Ukraine “within the next several days” as Moscow continues to increase its troop presence at the border.

“They have not moved any of their troops out. They've moved more troops in,” Biden said Thursday. “We have reason to believe they are engaged in a false flag operation. Every indication we have is they're prepared to go into Ukraine, to attack Ukraine.”

The president predicted Russia would go through with the invasion “within the next several days.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly changed travel plans Thursday morning to deliver another plea for diplomacy, in a rare in-person appearance before the U.N. Security Council in New York.

“I am here today not to start a war, but to prevent one,” Blinken said, in a lengthy statement read calmly to the panel. 

“If Russia is committed to diplomacy, we are presenting every opportunity for it to demonstrate that commitment,” he said, adding that it looks like Russian forces are “preparing to launch an attack against Ukraine in the coming days.”

Blinken laid out what form an attack on Ukraine is likely to take, including starting with a false claim about an attack that they could use to justify taking military action against Ukraine. After a bombing campaign and cyber attacks, Blinken predicted Russian tanks and troops would “advance on key targets” that have already been identified, including the capital in Kyiv. 

Russian officials at the United Nations maintained that they are not preparing an attack on Ukraine, and again accused the United States of stoking the fear of conflict. 

“You will not present here baseless accusations saying that Russia allegedly was going to attack Ukraine. I think we’ve had enough speculation on that,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said through a translator. “The announced date of the so-called invasion is behind us, so my advice to you is to not present yourself in an awkward situation.”

Blinken, however, defended America’s assessment of the probability of a Russian attack, saying it’s backed up by other allies. If Russia really does not plan to launch military action, Blinken called on Russia to publicly announce that it will not invade Ukraine and then send its troops back to their barracks. 

Blinken also said he sent a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday asking to meet in Europe next week and follow through on their public commitment to diplomacy. Before his unscheduled New York stop, Blinken was scheduled to depart for this weekend’s Munich Security Conference in Germany, alongside Vice President Kamala Harris and other Biden administration and European officials. 

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said she had hoped Russia would take Blinken up on his offer to firmly say it would not attack Ukraine and instead meet at the negotiating table, but “instead, it was a continuation of the disinformation and the rhetoric that we continue to hear.” 

In Brussels, earlier on Thursday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that he was alarmed by China’s “tacit approval” of President Vladimir Putin’s actions, noting Russia’s decision to move troops from its border with China to add to its buildup around Ukraine, Austin said it signaled. 

Austin and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the buildup of Russian forces has continued to increase over the last several days, in a joint press conference at NATO headquarters . As many as 7,000 additional Russian forces had arrived in the last several days, a senior Biden administration official told reporters on Wednesday.  

“Despite Moscow’s claims, we have seen no signs of withdrawal or de-escalation. On the contrary, Russia’s buildup appears to continue,” Stoltenberg said. 

“Even in the last couple of days, we see some of those troops edge closer to that [Ukrainian] border,” Austin said. “We see them fly in more combat and support aircraft. We see them sharpen their readiness in the Black Sea. We even see them stocking up their blood supplies.” 

Austin confirmed that some of those additional forces have come from Russia’s far eastern border with China. 

“We did note with alarm China’s tacit approval of Putin’s activities here in the region,” Austin said. “Certainly those are things we are going to watch going forward.” 

At the UN, China’s ambassador urged others to “let reason prevail,” but also said countries must consider each other’s “legitimate security concerns” in negotiations, despite American assertions that NATO and Ukraine do not pose any threat to Russian security.

“NATO’s enlargement is an issue that can not be bypassed when dealing with the current tensions related to the Ukraine issue….One country’s security can not be obtained at the expense of another country’s security,” said Zhang Jun, China’s ambassador to the UN, in comments implicitly directed at the United States. “There is one country that refuses to renounce its Cold War mentality. It says one thing and does another in order to seek absolute military superiority.”

At the press conference, Austin also announced that an additional Germany-based Stryker company would be deploying to Bulgaria for exercises. 

“Mr. Putin says he does not want a strong NATO on his western flank. He is getting exactly that,” Austin said. 

Stoltenberg and Austin faced skepticism on the troop numbers and intelligence the U.S. and alliance was providing. Reporters asked why U.S. and NATO shared intelligence should be accepted at face value, including that Russia might stage a “false flag” operation as a pretext for war, or the prediction that Ukraine would be attacked on Feb. 16, which it wasn’t.

“I don’t see this as a competition of narratives,” Austin said. But to address concerns about public trust in U.S. intelligence, “the solution is to continue to be transparent, to continue to talk to the American people and people around the world, quite frankly, and explain what we are seeing.”