When the US intelligence community first picked up signs in the fall that Russia could be preparing a new attack on Ukraine, President Joe Biden directed his administration to act — and fast. Wary of repeating mistakes made in 2014, when the US and Europe were caught off guard by Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Biden directed his national security team to use every tool possible to try to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin while a possible invasion was still assessed to be several months away, a senior US official told CNN. “What we have been doing is very calculated,” the official said. “But we only have about a four-week window from now” to pull it off, he added.

The response began with a flurry of intense diplomatic activity in early fall, including a trip by CIA Director Bill Burns to Moscow to warn Putin directly against making a

But as Russian troops continued to amass near Ukraine’s border, the quiet diplomacy quickly evolved into stark, public warnings to Putin to back down or face harsh sanctions and increased US military assistance to Ukraine. Top Biden officials are now emphasizing that the consequences would go above and beyond anything Russia faced after its land grab in 2014.

“The sanctions we imposed on Russia in 2014 were largely intended to inhibit the medium-to-long-term development of specific Russian state-owned firms by restricting their access to US capital markets and technology,” a White House official said.In contrast, the options on the table now “would be overwhelming, immediate and inflict significant costs on the Russian economy and their financial system.”

The intelligence community came under fire in 2014 when Biden was vice president, over what some lawmakers said was a failure to predict Russia’s incursion into Crimea until it was too late. And after that attack, Biden’s push to arm Ukraine and impose extremely severe sanctions on Russia was largely overruled by President Barack Obama. Now in charge, Biden has wanted to do things very differently, officials said. This administration has been much more proactive, and there is more of a realistic sense now that Putin is capable of absorbing a lot of pain in an effort to impose costs on the US and our allies,” said New Jersey Democratic Rep.

Tom Malinowski, who served as the State Department’s senior most human rights official from April 2014 to January 2017.That has resulted in far more robust intelligence-sharing with Ukraine about Russia’s planning than anything that occurred in 2014, sources familiar with the process said — partly because the Ukrainian government is “a more reliable partner” now than it was then, said one former senior NATO official, and partly because Biden firmly believes Ukraine cannot be left out of any discussions that concern its future.

Cornell Closes Campus; N.J. Hospital Use Doubles: Virus Update

New study data showed Pfizer Inc.’s experimental Covid-19 pill was highly effective at keeping patients out of the hospital but less adept at erasing milder symptoms often associated with breakthrough infections.

The omicron variant now makes up 3% of all sequenced Covid-19 cases in the U.S., rising from less than 0.1% in early December. Hospitalizations are surging across New York state and New Jersey. Philadelphia will mandate proof of full vaccination to enter bars and restaurants starting Jan. 3. 

Boris Johnson suffered the biggest rebellion since he became British prime minister, as dozens of Conservatives voted against a key part of his strategy to tackle omicron. Italy will require travelers from other European Union countries to provide a negative Covid-19 test, and Scotland and the Netherlands are tightening restrictions.

Key Developments:

Amtrak Changes Vaccine Mandate

Amtrak says it won’t reduce service on long-distance routes in 2022, which it previously planned due to an expected shortage of workers when its vaccine mandate takes effect.https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2020-coronavirus-dash/

Amtrak is temporarily reverting to its original policy that will allow for testing as an alternative to vaccination, the company’s CEO, Bill Flynn, told employees in a memo Tuesday. The change follows a federal district court pausing enforcement of the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for contractors.

NYC Vaccine Mandate Blocked for Detective

A state judge temporarily blocked New York City’s Covid vaccine requirement of municipal workers for a Police Department detective who sued the city.

Fauci Says Lockdowns Unlikely; NBA Cancels Games: Virus Update