In a Thursday speech to the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered the bleakest warning yet of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine in the coming days.
“As we meet today, the most immediate threat to peace and security is Russia’s looming aggression against Ukraine,” he said. “This is a moment of peril for the lives and safety of millions of people.”
Blinken’s stark address came only hours after news broke that Russia had expelled the second-highest-ranking US diplomat in Moscow, which the State Department described as an “escalatory step.” Tensions between Russia and the West have simmered over Vladimir Putin’s menacing build-up of military forces near the Ukrainian border, a prelude to what US government officials have described as a likely “false flag” operation to justify an invasion.
In his speech, Blinken outlined multiple possible scenarios, from a “fabricated, so-called terrorist bombing inside Russia” to the “invented discovery of a mass grave.” These claims echo recent US public statements about Russia using a pretext to invade, which have drawn criticism for not including evidence, a point Blinken seemed to acknowledge.
“I’m mindful that some have called into question our information, recalling previous instances where intelligence did not ultimately bear out,” he said, a nod to bogus US intelligence claims in the run-up to the Iraq War. “But let me be clear: I am here today not to start a war, but to prevent one.” He added that the United States’ information was validated by “what we’ve seen unfolding in plain sight before our eyes.”
Putin has demanded several guarantees from Western nations, including that Ukraine be barred from joining NATO, the trans-Atlantic military alliance. Blinken, speaking to reporters in December, rejected this idea, saying the notion that a country has a “right to exert a sphere of influence” ought to be “relegated to the dustbin of history.”
As the crisis has ballooned in recent weeks, the Biden administration urged US citizens to leave Ukraine and sent US troops to nearby NATO allies like Poland. What happens next, Blinken made clear, is up to Putin. In his closing remarks, he urged Russia without “qualification, equivocation, or deflection” to say it “will not invade Ukraine.”