White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki in a Tuesday afternoon daily press briefing said "We believe we're now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack on Ukraine. I would say that's more stark than we have been."
She confirmed that Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kiev this week, just after it was recently revealed that CIA Director William Burns did the same last week. "What Secretary Blinken is going to do is highlight very clearly that there's a diplomatic path forward,” Psaki said. "It is the choice of President Putin and the Russians to make whether they are going to suffer severe economic consequences or not."
"No option is off the table" if #Russia "further invades Ukraine," @PressSec tells @WhiteHouse reporters. "We're now at a stage where Russia at any time could launch an attack on Ukraine." pic.twitter.com/mTEesS4oCg— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) January 18, 2022
Crucially, Blinken will from there go to Geneva where he's agreed to meet Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. He's expected to demand that Russia "take immediate steps to de-escalate," according to Psaki's briefing.
Russia has lately confirmed it has a build-up of forces within its territory near Ukraine, but hasn't disclosed how many troops, after Kiev and Washington have commonly accused the Kremlin of having at least 100,000 troops there in preparation for a Ukraine invasion, something the Russians have vehemently and consistently denied.
At the same time, it appears the Biden administration is getting creative with its sanctions and who they're targeting. Instead of announcing new sanctions directly against Russia or Russian officials or entities, on Tuesday it was revealed in The Wall Street Journal that new action will be taken against "pro-Russian agents in Ukraine". Thus punitive measures will for the first time be aimed squarely at those deemed Russia's proxies on the ground in Eastern Ukraine:
As pressure mounts for the U.S. and its European allies to take swift action to deter Russian escalation, the coming action against Ukrainian individuals rather than the Russian government underscores some of the administration’s hesitation to go after Moscow directly, officials said. The U.S. and its allies hope for a diplomatic breakthrough after four rounds of talks last week failed to narrow the gap between Moscow and Western nations.
The pending sanctions, which will freeze the assets of at least four individuals, could be announced as early as Thursday. They would be the latest in a string of actions under an executive order signed by President Biden last April that aim to punish individuals associated with Russia’s foreign aggression.
Few other details have been given at this point, and it strongly suggests that as Putin doesn't look ready to back off of demands of no further NATO expansion westward anytime soon, the Biden administration is ready to play ball on finding an off-ramp to further escalation.
However, Psaki still stressed on Tuesday, "No option is off the table, in our view." She told reporters: "We continue to consult closely with European counterparts on severe consequences for Russia if it further invades Ukraine."
Footage confirms that Britain today ferried a vast number of guided missiles to Ukraine - 5 cargo plane loads worth of NLAW ATGM’s pic.twitter.com/wYucteQJR7— Murad Gazdiev (@MuradGazdiev) January 18, 2022
But some of those European counterparts are already ramping up action on their own, with Britain shipping extra military weapons via flights into Ukraine. These flights are said to include deliveries of anti-tank weapons, among other systems, after UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace briefed parliament:
"We have taken the decision to supply Ukraine with light anti-armor defensive weapon systems," Ben Wallace told the House of Commons, adding that the first of these systems was delivered on Monday. "They are not strategic weapons and pose no threat to Russia. They are to use in self-defense."
So the UK through this action is ready to escalate its involvement, while claiming this marks "no threat" to Russia. Russia's military has for now provided its response to such measures in the form of snap military exercises with Belarus on Belarusian soil, close to NATO European countries and partners.