Embassy staff in Ukraine evacuate; inflation hits 40-year high: NPR

US officials warn that Russia could attack Ukraine in the coming days, although they say there is still a chance of preventing an invasion. In addition, inflation is at a 40-year high.



SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

As we speak, President Biden is on the phone with President Vladimir Putin in another attempt to avert an invasion of Ukraine. The president requested the call after US intelligence officials determined Russia could strike within days. This was explained yesterday by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

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JAKE SULLIVAN: The way he built his forces and fielded them, and the other indicators we’ve gathered through intelligence, clearly show us that there is a very definite possibility that Russia will choose to act militarily. , and there’s reason to believe it could happen in a reasonably quick timeframe.

SIMON: Ron Elving from NPR is joining us. Ron, thank you very much for being with us.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Glad to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: Do administration officials seem more confident than ever that Russia will invade Ukraine?

ELVING: Yes. There had been speculation that Putin might wait until after the Olympics, partly out of respect for China. But the Olympics still have a week to go, and apparently surveillance visuals and intercepted communications point to something more imminent. Now we know that the Russians already have their senior commanders very close to the border, who are participating in what are called training exercises in Belarus. They have all their pieces in place, and the ground conditions won’t be as favorable if they wait too long. So it all adds up to heightened alertness.

SIMON: At the same time, the president and his advisers repeated that they had no information indicating that President Putin had made his decision. So that leaves room, doesn’t it?

ELVING: It does, and that’s the hope. It’s obviously a good idea to give Putin the chance to back down. You don’t want to block anything that might still be available to him or make the worst-case scenario a done deal before it happens. It is also important not to exclude options for other countries in the NATO alliance. You want to keep the group together in order to deter the Russians. This has been the North Star of all this diplomatic effort.

SIMON: Russia has always insisted that they have no intention of invading, and that – he says the United States is calling the dogs of war in strong words and now 6,000 troops are being sent Poland. Is the administration concerned that actions like this will provoke Russia?

ELVING: Still concerned, but watch; it’s a few thousand soldiers going to Poland – of course, not to Ukraine. Poland is a NATO country – a full member, an ally. Ukraine is none of that. We therefore emphasize this difference in engagement with this latest troop movement. Meanwhile, Ukraine has its own reasons for being cautious and non-provocative. They’ve intensified the training of civilian fighters, of course, but they’re still trying to stay calm as much as possible.

SIMON: At home, inflation increased by 7.5% in January compared to 12 months earlier. First and last – food, gas, and clothing are getting harder for people to afford every day. But what are the political consequences?

ELVING: The political consequences are both immediate and long term. For starters, the Senate is highly unlikely to incur major new expenditures. This would include the costliest items included in the Build Back Better plan that stalled last year. Longer term, these numbers are worrisome for incumbents around the world, especially Democrats in November. Consumers are suffering. Consumer sentiment is measured by the University of Michigan. It went down to 61.7 on their scale. This is the lowest since the Great Recession ten years ago. And while current inflation is nowhere near as bad as it was in the 1970s and 1980s, let us remember that these episodes upset incumbent presidents in 1976 and 1980 as well as many members of Congress.

SIMON: Finally, Canadian police nearly evacuated protesters from the Ambassador Bridge that connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. That was another headache for the White House, wasn’t it?

ELVING: Yes, because it made the supply chain problem worse and shut down some factories on both sides of the border. This thing started about a month ago, when truckers lost their special exemption from the vaccination mandate for cross-border commuters – started with a seat around the Canadian capital, then spread to the big bridges that carry a large part of the trade of the two countries. And so we are watching the action on the other bridges today and also on the other shows of support here in the United States and elsewhere.

SIMON: Ron Elving, thank you very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Scott.

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