As Feb. 16 passes by, Biden administration pressed on Russian invasion intel

·4 min read

Reporters on Wednesday pressed the Biden administration on intelligence suggesting that Russia was eyeing Wednesday to attack Ukraine as the day drew to a close in Kyiv without any signs of an incursion.

Recent reports pointed to Feb. 16 as the day Russian forces would likely launch an incursion into Ukraine, but instead the tense military and geopolitical standoff continued.

NBC News's Kristen Welker asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki about the intelligence at Wednesday's briefing.

"What do you make of the fact that at this point - it is now darkness in that region - there hasn't been a military invasion?" Welker asked.

Psaki, noting that she would not touch on specific intelligence or conversations, emphasized the U.S. believes Russia remains "in the window" for a possible invasion of Ukraine.

She referenced past statements from White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who has said Moscow could launch an incursion "any day now."

The Associated Press said intelligence obtained by the U.S. indicated that Russia was eyeing Wednesday as a day for the attack, and Politico reported that President Biden told Western leaders that Moscow could start its incursion on Feb. 16.

In public, however, top U.S. officials stopped short of presenting a firm timeline, instead emphasizing that an attack could occur any day, during or after the Beijing Olympics.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky heightened concerns on Monday when he said he had been "told that February 16 will be the day of the attack," making it a day of unity, but officials in the country later clarified that he was referring to media stories regarding the potential invasion.

At the State Department briefing on Wednesday, a reporter asked spokesman Ned Price why a Russian attack on Ukraine had not "materialized," despite the day being pointed to as a potential target date. The reporter also asked if the intelligence is still valid.

Price, like Psaki, emphasized that the international community is currently in the window for when an attack can occur.

"We said for some time now that we are in a window where Putin could order an invasion or an attack on Ukraine at a moment's notice," Price said. "That has been the case for some time precisely because this buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine's borders in Belarus, other tactics and moves that we've seen ... have positioned Russia to be able to do this at any moment. That remains our assessment."

Pressed by another reporter on if the U.S.'s intelligence citing Feb. 16 was wrong, Price said, "No."

"First of all, I don't think you've heard us from any podium point to a specific day of an invasion. I think what you've heard from us for some time now is to make the point that what the Russian Federation has put in place are the capabilities they would need to order an attack at any time," he added.

In recent weeks, the administration has delivered a number of blunt assessments about potential Russian actions in what officials say is part of efforts to deter Moscow from heightening tensions further or staging a "false flag" operation.

Earlier this month, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the U.S. had information that Russia would "likely to want to fabricate a pretext for an invasion," which could include the Russian government staging "a fake attack by Ukrainian military or intelligence forces against Russian sovereign territory, or against Russian speaking people, to therefore justify their action."

And in January, after the British government said it had information indicating that Russia was planning to install a pro-Russian leader in Ukraine, The New York Times, citing U.S. officials, reported that American personnel "said they believe the British intelligence is correct."

While concerns are growing that Putin is getting closer to ordering an invasion of Ukraine, U.S. officials say they still believe the path to a diplomatic solution is open, despite weeks of engagement ending with no breakthroughs.

"We still believe, despite everything that we're seeing, despite everything that all of you can see with your own eyes, that there remains a window, if the Russians are serious about their commitment to engage in dialogue and diplomacy, for this to be resolved peacefully," Price said on Wednesday.

"That window has not closed. That window will not close until and unless Putin makes the decision to go in," he added.

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