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Ukraine crisis: US weighs more military support on Ukraine to resist Russia if it invades

The discussions, described by several sources familiar with them, reflect a sense of pessimism in the administration after last week's diplomatic talks with Russian officials, which yielded no breakthrough, and as Russia has continued to raise its strength in the last few days.

In addition to considering how to help the Ukrainian military and government avert an invasion, the United States is assessing the possibilities of strengthening the Ukrainian forces' ability to withstand a potential Russian occupation. It potentially includes supplying the Ukrainian army with additional ammunition, mortars, Javelin anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missile systems that would likely come from NATO allies, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

The news comes ahead of a face-to-face meeting between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Friday. A senior State Department official said the planned meeting "suggests that diplomacy may not be dead."
President Joe Biden has said it is off the table to send US combat troops to Ukraine to fight a war with Russia. But special operations forces are already rotating in and out of the country to provide training to Ukrainian forces, and a senior administration official said it was possible other agencies could provide some support, likely the CIA. CIA Director Bill Burns traveled to Kiev last week to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and discuss risks to Ukraine, a US official said.

"We are looking at a number of options to help defend Ukraine," a senior official told CNN. This could include further defensive arms sales, "advice" and "helping Ukraine stay in the fight for a larger, conventional Russian military presence."

Considerations of supporting a resistance campaign reflect an increasingly pessimistic view of the administration about Putin's willingness to invade and occupy large parts of Ukrainian territory. Russia has increased its level of strength since Friday, the senior official said.

"Let us be clear. Our view is that this is an extremely dangerous situation. We are now at a stage where Russia can launch an attack on Ukraine at any time," said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. , Tuesday. "And what Minister Blinken will do is emphasize very clearly that there is a diplomatic way forward. It is up to President Putin and the Russians to decide whether or not they will suffer serious economic consequences."

Right now, military sources familiar with the planning say there has been no official change in Washington's guidelines, and officials stressed that these are early considerations that have not yet been formally presented to the president for approval. Some members of the administration are on guard against getting stuck in a support effort against the occupation and have argued that US forces should leave if a war breaks out.

Increased pessimism

U.S. officials left meetings in Europe last week even more pessimistic about what Putin could plan and how limited Western influence is to stop it - even with the punitive sanctions and increased NATO presence in Eastern Europe on the table.

"We may require some pain, but there is a big difference between requiring pain and actually having influence," a senior U.S. official said.

As recently as late last week, Biden administration officials conducted table exercises in which they played out all sorts of U.S. and allied political reactions, sources familiar with the planning told CNN. Top U.S. officials also spent much of the weekend in high-level meetings discussing the way forward, a senior State Department official said.

Putin and Biden are caught in a high-profile operation on Ukraine

The United States continues to say that diplomacy is "crucial" and that negotiations will hopefully continue. But there have been no details on what the next diplomatic steps will look like, and Russia has pulled down its diplomatic presence in Kiev in what a US official said was ominous and worrying for the United States. Russia's foreign ministry on Tuesday denied that it had begun evacuating diplomatic personnel, saying that "the Russian embassy in Kiev is operating in a standard manner."

Pentagon officials, meanwhile, have devised options for how the United States could help boost an ongoing resistance campaign in Ukraine and inflict the highest possible costs on Russia in the wake of any invasion, according to sources familiar with the talks.

The CIA continues to run an intelligence gathering training program in the United States for Ukrainian specialty and intelligence officials, current and former officials familiar with the program tell CNN. The program was first reported by Yahoo News.

A CIA spokesman pushed back any suggestion that the program has helped train a Ukrainian insurgency in waiting, but former intelligence officers familiar with it say the program includes the kind of covert paramilitary training needed to gather intelligence in a war zone.

"The purpose of the training and the training that was provided was to help with the collection of intelligence, not to help with a riot," said a senior intelligence official.

Putin's plans remain unclear

U.S. officials still do not know what Putin's plans are or whether he has decided to invade at all. Some officials who have seen the intelligence say there is evidence that Russia is planning to try to take Ukraine's capital, Kiev, and overthrow the government. The deployment of forces from Russia's eastern military district in Belarus on Monday struck many US officials and Russian military analysts as particularly ominous, as did a wave of cyber attacks on Ukraine last week.

But others believe it is more likely that Russia will launch a more limited operation in eastern Ukraine with the aim of securing a land bridge to Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. The United States on Friday accused Russia of assuming a group of operatives in eastern Ukraine to carry out a false flag operation accusing Ukraine of provocations and using it to justify an invasion.
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Just like within the Biden administration, Ukrainian officials have not concluded that Putin has made up his mind, a Ukrainian official said, adding that the negotiations in Europe had no appreciable impact on the crisis. Meanwhile, the build-up of Russian troops along Ukraine's borders - and in neighboring Belarus - has continued to grow.

"We can see that it's not deescalating, it's going on," the official said. "Still not enough to make a full-scale invasion and sustain it, but it's still a lot."

As part of the build-up, Russia has deployed several aircraft closer to the border, which has raised fears of a significant air component to a possible invasion. Two to three dozen Sukhov-34 fighter jets have joined helicopters located near Ukraine, the official said.

Ukrainian defense officials are in daily contact with U.S. counterparts in the Pentagon, the official said, preparing for a variety of actions the Russians could take.

"We prepared an answer for each scenario," the official said. "We're going to fight if anything happens. Our people are ready to fight. Every window will shoot if [Russians] go [in]. "

"Anyone who is willing to fight will do so and will receive a weapon for this, just like in 2014," the official continued, adding that individual "reservists" who have received some training should simply report to a recruitment office. . Asked where the weapons for these reservists would come from, the official said they would come from the NATO-backed Ukrainian warehouses. "Material support from partners will also go to them," he said.

CNN's Kylie Atwood contributed reporting.

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