Washington understood that Russia was preparing an attack on Ukraine and tried to convince allies and President Volodymyr Zelensky that there was a risk of an invasion.
US intelligence and the White House administration learned about the plans for a large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine back in October 2021. On Tuesday, August 16, reports Washington Post with reference to dozens of interlocutors from among high-ranking officials of the United States, Ukraine, Europe and NATO.
According to the publication, in October 2021, an urgent meeting of the top intelligence, military and diplomatic leadership with President Joe Biden was held in the Oval Office at the White House.
The meeting discussed a highly classified intelligence analysis – compiled from recent satellite imagery, intercepted communications and conversations with sources – that presented Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military plans for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Reportedly, there were several such meetings regarding Ukraine at that time. Biden was told that intelligence about Putin’s operational plans, in addition to deploying weapons along the border with Ukraine, showed that Russia was now ready for a massive attack.
It has been reported that Putin’s military plans were very audacious – they included the capture of most of Ukraine and could directly threaten NATO’s eastern flank or even destroy Europe’s post-World War II security architecture.
At that meeting, Biden, who promised to save the country from new wars, decided that Putin must either be contained or resisted, and that the US should not go it alone. It is noted that at the time, NATO was far from unanimous on how to deal with Moscow, and confidence in the United States was weak.
According to the publication, even then there was an understanding that in the event of an invasion by the Russian Federation, Ukrainians would need a significant amount of new weapons to protect themselves. There was also an understanding that too much could provoke a direct conflict between NATO and a nuclear Russia.
On that October morning, Milley reported that, according to intelligence, Putin was planning to launch a major strategic attack on Ukraine from several directions simultaneously.
In particular, it was reported that the Russians want to attack from the north – on both sides of Kyiv. Part of the force was to move east of the capital through the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, while the other part was to bypass Kyiv from the west, moving south from Belarus through the natural gap between the “Exclusion Zone” and the swampy area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. The attack was to take place in winter so that the hard ground would make the terrain easily passable for tanks.
Having taken Kyiv in the ring, Russian troops planned to capture the capital in 3-4 days. Russian special forces were to find and remove President Volodymyr Zelensky (killing him if necessary) and install a Kremlin-friendly puppet government.
Separately, Russian troops were to come from the east and pass through central Ukraine to the Dnieper, while troops from Crimea occupied the southeast coast. These actions, according to the Kremlin’s plan, could take several weeks.
After a pause to regroup and rearm, the Russians were supposed to move west, to a north-south line stretching from Moldova to western Belarus, leaving to the west the remnants of the Ukrainian state—a territory that Putin calculated was inhabited by incorrigible neo-Nazi Russophobes.
The interlocutors of the publication note that it was difficult for some of those present in the White House to realize the scale of the Russian leader’s ambitions. They did not believe that “a reasonable country could do such a thing.”
Yet intelligence showed that more and more Russian troops were arriving at Ukraine’s borders for a full-fledged campaign.
It is reported that then Biden put pressure on his advisers – did they really think that this time Putin would strike. And they confirmed that it was real.
In particular, CIA Director William Burns, who served as the US ambassador to Moscow and had the most direct contact with Putin of anyone in the Biden administration, called the Russian leader obsessed with Ukraine.
Analysts say Putin calculated that his attempt to take over Ukraine would cause outrage in the West, but not concrete action. This was due to many factors – the US desire to avoid new wars after Afghanistan, the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the presidential election in France and the economic downturn after Brexit in the UK.
In addition, much of the continent was dependent on Russian oil and natural gas.
According to US national security adviser Jacob Sullivan, Biden made two decisions after the October briefing – to send someone to Moscow to warn the Kremlin about the consequences in the event of an attack, and to inform allies about the data obtained by American intelligence, and involve them in that it will be necessary to have a single tough stance towards Russia, to strengthen and expand the defense capabilities of NATO and to help Ukraine.
The publication recalled that intelligence data was also transferred to the Ukrainian leadership. But in Ukraine they were a little skeptical about this. Not quite believed in a full-scale invasion in Europe and NATO.
On January 12, Burns met Zelensky in Kyiv and said that, according to intelligence, Russia intends to launch a lightning strike on Kyiv and behead the central government.
The US also assumed that Russia would first try to land its troops at the airport in Gostomel, a suburb of the capital, and launch an assault on Kyiv.
Earlier, the National Security and Defense Council stated that since November, the Ukrainian authorities clearly understood that the invasion of Russian troops would happen, but did not at all expect that this would happen from Belarus.