Ukraine News: Airlines suspend flights as German leader warns of ‘serious threat to peace’

Credit…Leah Millis/Reuters

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said Sunday that US officials still believe Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could invade Ukraine at any time, despite continued diplomatic efforts.

“The way they built up their forces, the way they maneuvered things into place, makes it possible there will be major military action very soon,” Sullivan said in an interview. on CNN’s “State of the Union.” ”

“We are ready to continue working on diplomacy,” he added, “but we are also ready to respond in a united and decisive manner with our allies and partners if Russia continues.”

Mr. Sullivan’s comments came a day after Mr. Biden spoke with Mr. Putin for more than an hour by phone. Mr Biden, his advisers said, discussed a range of diplomatic options with the Russian president, but also warned of “swift and severe” consequences if Mr Putin launched a major attack on Ukraine . Officials believe Mr Putin could use air force and bombs first before ordering a ground invasion.

The two leaders spoke just hours after the United States ordered most of its diplomats and other personnel to leave the American Embassy in Ukraine. Mr. Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky are due to speak on Sunday morning.

Mr Sullivan also explained why US officials were working to dispel what they believe were Russian attempts to justify the invasion. Asked about the so-called false flag operation, he said the world should be prepared for Russia to “stage a pretext and then launch potential military action”, and noted that the Russians had used this manual during other conflicts.

“Our view is that we’re not going to give Russia an opportunity to surprise here – to drop something on Ukraine or on the world,” Sullivan said.

But Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, hit back hard at these warnings.

“The world already knows who is lying all the time,” she wrote on her channel on the Telegram app and on Facebook. She cited former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s invocation of “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003 as a pretext to invade Iraq as an example, saying, “I would like to remind Mr. Sullivan of the video footage of this speech in his native language. ”

“American politicians have lied, are lying, and will continue to lie, creating pretexts to attack civilians around the world,” she wrote. ” Everyone knows it. I would ask the American political establishment not to commit and bear another sin on their soul, but I’m not sure they have any.

Mr Biden threatened to impose tough economic sanctions on Russia in the event of an invasion, and said the United States would block a controversial gas pipeline between Germany and Russia from going ahead.

On Sunday, Mr Sullivan said officials were working to divert gas shipments to Europe if Russia “turned off the taps”. And he said officials were working to compile lists of people close to Mr Putin whom the United States would penalize in the event of an invasion.

In other Sunday morning television interviews, a congressman weighed in on the crisis.

“If we didn’t threaten sanctions and such, it would ensure that Putin would invade,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Let’s hope the diplomacy works. It’s a matter of diplomacy, of deterrence.

She promised that Congress, whose key lawmakers have struggled to reach bipartisan agreement on a sanctions package, would be united against a Russian invasion.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who appeared on the ABC show after Ms Pelosi, said he thought ‘we can do more in Congress and we should’.

“The best thing that could happen is that we pass this sanctions package before the invasion, with a waiver,” he added, saying the measure would “destroy the ruble and cripple the Russian economy.”

Valerie Hopkins contributed.

Correction:

An earlier version of the headline with this article incorrectly identified the country that US officials still believed Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could invade at any moment. It’s Ukraine, not Russia.

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