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Transcript: Jake Sullivan on "Face the Nation," February 13, 2022

Sullivan: Russia could invade Ukraine "essentially at any time"
Sullivan says Russia could launch Ukraine invasion "essentially at any time" 10:29

The following is a transcript of an interview with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan that aired Sunday, February 13, 2022, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We go now to the White House, national security adviser Jake Sullivan. Good morning to you, Jake. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: You were on that hour-long call between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. There were no breakthroughs. Is there any reason to believe Putin is going to take any of the diplomatic options you've given him?

SULLIVAN: Look, I'm not going to predict what Vladimir Putin is going to do. All I can do is make sure that we're prepared to respond. Either way, if Russia wants to continue engaging diplomatically to find a way forward to address their security concerns and our security concerns, we're prepared to do that. If Russia decides instead to take major military action against Ukraine. We're prepared to respond decisively – 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But there's no diplomacy underway right now? There's nothing that came out of yesterday's call? 

SULLIVAN: Well, the two presidents did instruct their teams to remain engaged, so we will do so and we will continue to test the proposition that we can find a diplomatic path forward. In parallel to that, we will continue to get ready with our allies and partners to impose swift and severe consequences if Russia moves forward. So as far as we're concerned, the United States of America diplomacy is still open and available. But if Russia chooses to move, we're prepared to respond.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You said an attack by Russia could happen as soon as this week. Are you seeing Russian troops move into tactical positions?

SULLIVAN: We have seen over the course of the past 10 days a dramatic acceleration in the buildup of Russian forces and the disposition of those forces in such a way that they could launch a military action, essentially at any time. They could do so this coming week. But of course, it still awaits the go order. And so therefore, we cannot predict the precise day or time that they may take action. We also are watching very carefully for the possibility that there is a pretext or a false flag operation to kick off the Russian action in which Russian intelligence services conduct some kind of attack on Russian proxy forces in eastern Ukraine or on Russian citizens, and then blame it on the Ukrainians.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-Hmm. Russian intelligence is already publicly claiming things are happening in the east of Ukraine and that Donbas region. Is that the flashpoint where you think things would start?

SULLIVAN: It is one distinct possibility, and to your point, the Russian media has been laying the groundwork for this publicly by trying to condition their public that some kind of attack by the Ukrainians is imminent. And there is a kind of bizarre quality to all of this where the Russians are claiming they are the ones who are under threat, despite the fact that they have amassed more than 100000 forces on the troops of- excuse me, on the border of their neighbor. And they have done so not just on their own territory, but on the territory of Belarus, which is the country, of course, that borders Ukraine to the North.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Right. I mean, you said on Friday in the White House briefing room, Americans should get out within the next 24 to 48 hours. That puts us at today. What are you telling Americans who remain? Should they go underground? Is it too late to leave now?

SULLIVAN: As long as commercial transport options are available, Americans should take advantage of them. We had hoped, based on our warnings, that Americans would have gotten out by now, but as long as those commercial transit options are available, Americans should avail themselves of them. They should move out by air or rail or road as rapidly as possible. Because, as I said, also on Friday, if there is military action, if there is a war between Russia and Ukraine started by a Russian invasion of Ukraine. President Biden is not intending to set in- to send in American forces to fight Russia in that war, and Americans who have the opportunity to get out now should avail themselves of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But airspace remains open right now. If Russia does carry out this invasion, you've talked about the consequences with sanctions, but are you committed to actually funding, arming, helping a Ukrainian insurgency?

SULLIVAN: Well, what the president has said is that we will continue to support Ukraine even after an invasion begins, and I'm not going to get into the specific details of what that will look like, but it is one of the three fundamental elements of our response. Continue to support Ukraine as it seeks to resist Russian aggression. Second, impose severe and swift economic measures in concert with our allies and partners that go at Russia's financial system and at its defense industrial base. And then third, reinforce, reassure and deter that is- reinforce NATO territory, reassure our allies on the eastern flank and deter Russia from any action against NATO allies to whom we have a sacred Article five commitment to defend. We are going to carry out all of those actions--


SULLIVAN: --in the event that Russia moves forward, and we've been very clear about that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But at the same time, there's high risk potentially of miscalculation. I mean, you look at this map and these military exercises, it's not just highest number since the Cold War. I mean, you have pretty close proximity between NATO troops and Russian troops. Is this just a potential risk of a miscalculation that's incredibly high at this moment? Why is the White House using the word catastrophic to describe what would happen here?

SULLIVAN: Well, Margaret, part of the reason that we've been as transparent as we have about the deployment of American forces to Romania and Poland, about our exercises from the Mediterranean up to the Baltics, the reason we've gone out publicly and laid out both what the scope and parameters of those deployments and exercises are and what their purpose is, is to avoid mistake, miscalculation or escalation and also to send a very clear message to Russia. We will defend every inch of NATO's territory, every inch of Article five territory and Russia, we think, fully understands that message.

MARGARET BRENNAN: But is it possible this is just the world's most expensive and dangerous bluff on the part of Vladimir Putin?

SULLIVAN: Again, as I said at the top of your show, I can't get in the head of Vladimir Putin and I can't predict exactly what he's going to do. All we can do with president Biden- at President Biden's direction is prepare, prepare for diplomacy to find a way forward that is sustainable and durable and advances the security of all the United States, Russia and Europe, and prepare for the potential of a major military action in the coming days. We have done that over the course of the past few months, and I sit here before you today prepared for either option. The United States is prepared. Our allies are prepared. And now it's up to Russia to determine what the next step they will take.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, China and Russia say it's a new era. They're joining alliances, so you are threatening to hurt Russia financially, they seem to be indicating there's a new world order where they're not so worried about that threat.

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, Margaret, China will not be in a position to compensate Russia for the losses that it will endure in the event that the United States and its allies impose economic measures on Russia. Second, and maybe more importantly, we all have to have a bit more confidence in ourselves, the United States, the West, the leading democracies of the world where more than 50 percent of the world's economy. China and Russia, are less than 20 percent. We've got innovation-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: They're not without leverage. 

SULLIVAN: --entrepreneurship and yes we've got freedom. Yes, but I think part of the challenge with the discourse in Washington right now is there's so much emphasis on China and Russia's leverage and not nearly enough on our leverage, our capacity, our power, our ability to have a stronger, more determined, more purposeful west, a more united NATO and more solidified transatlantic alliance than at any point in modern memory. That is what Russia is producing at cost to itself if it moves on Ukraine, and that will bring enormous human costs to the Ukrainian people. But it will also bring significant strategic cost to Russia, and the United States stands ready in the aftermath of such an activity. Side by side, with our allies and partners to stand up for our interests and values.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Jake, I know Afghanistan and Ukraine couldn't be more different, but there is always the risk when you are making policy choices that you're fighting the last war instead of addressing what's happening now. These loud warnings about Ukraine, about the need to get out. Is this because of how the White House miscalculated the level of chaos around the US evacuation from Afghanistan? President Biden said this week that he wasn't warned. No one told me. And he rejected the findings of this army report, pointing to errors.

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, Margaret, Afghanistan does play into this in an important way because the American people saw the United States deploy thousands of soldiers and then evacuate one hundred and twenty four thousand people from Kabul last August. It's totally possible that there are some Americans out there in Ukraine thinking the exact same thing is going to happen in Ukraine. And it's our obligation to indicate to them that that is not in fact, the case that there is a big difference between ending a 20 year war in Afghanistan and sending American forces in to fight Russian forces near their border in a war in Ukraine, which the president is not prepared to do. So we are trying to dispel any notion that the United States is going to deploy thousands of forces to Ukraine to fight in order to evacuate Americans.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Did you learn the lessons of Afghanistan? Are you applying them now?

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, to the point about the report, you just mentioned, the president and I sitting here today do reject the reports in The Washington Post that the White House or the NSC sought to slow down the evacuation--

MARGARET BRENNAN: This was a FOIA'd version--

SULLIVAN: -- the opposite is true-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --of an Army Report. 

SULLIVAN: -- from the president. From- from the president on down. It was the White House and the NSC pushing military leaders and diplomats day by day through those early days of August to say, should we begin the evacuation now and as soon as- the minute our military leaders and diplomats recommended to the president that he do so literally that minute, he ordered the evacuation.

MARGARET BRENNAN: August 12th. Thank you, Jake Sullivan, for your time today. We'll be watching. Good luck. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Face the Nation will be back in a moment. Stay with us.

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