Putin’s Invasion Timeline and the Olympics


Russian T-72B3 main battle tanks drive during drills in Rostov Region, Russia, January 27, 2022. (Sergey Pivovarov/Reuters)

CNN’s Matthew Chance reports that President Biden told Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky during their call today that a Russian invasion of his country is imminent and that his government needs to “prepare for impact.”(Spokespeople for the White House and Ukraine’s presidential office quickly denied Chance’s reporting, with NSC spokesperson Emily Horne saying that Biden repeated his previous warnings that there’s a “distinct possibility” of an attack.)

Even if the invasion is virtually imminent, however, a senior administration official said earlier this week that it might have to wait until after the opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Russian president Vladimir Putin is expected to be abroad, attending the opening ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics on February 4. He’ll be attending the international sporting event with U.S.–Russia talks on Moscow’s military buildup faltering and an influx of Russian forces and equipment to positions close to Ukraine well underway.

Deputy secretary of state Wendy Sherman told an audience yesterday that the timing of the Olympics could factor into Putin’s timeline for military action. During an appearance at the Yalta European Strategy forum, the State Department official said that only Putin knows what Russia’s intentions are here. People close to him “know the plans of setting up the military to be ready to go and to have plans to make use of the military, but I suspect the president has other plans in mind as well.”

She added that Putin has said he will attend the opening ceremony. “I think probably President Xi Jinping would not be ecstatic if Putin chose that moment to invade Ukraine, so that may affect his timing and his thinking.”

That said, there’s plenty of time between the start of the games and the final events on February 20. As Isaac Stone-Fish, the CEO of Strategy Risks, recently observed about the link between recent Russian invasions and the Olympics, during the past seven Olympic events, he wrote, “Russia has invaded other countries twice, or roughly 29% of the time.”

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