WASHINGTON – (AP) –
US intelligence agencies have determined that Russian plans are underway for a possible military offensive against Ukraine, which could begin as early as early 2022 and would include an estimated 175,000 employees, according to an administrative official.
The new intelligence report estimates that half of Russian personnel are already stationed at various points near the Ukrainian border, according to a Biden government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the finding.
It comes as Russia takes up its demands on Biden to guarantee Ukraine will not be allowed to join the NATO alliance.
The official added that the plans call for 100 tactical battalion groups to move along with armaments, artillery and equipment.
Intelligence officials have also seen an increase in the use of proxies and media by Russian intelligence operations to denigrate Ukraine and NATO from a possible invasion, the official said.
The intelligence results were first published by the Washington Post.
Earlier on Friday, President Joe Biden promised to make it “very, very difficult” for Russia’s Vladimir Putin to take military action in Ukraine, saying that his administration’s new initiatives should deter Russian aggression.
The president offered Putin the moderate warning in response growing concern about Russian armament Troops on the Ukrainian border and increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the Kremlin.
“What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be the most comprehensive and meaningful initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr Putin to go ahead and do what people fear he might do,” Biden told Reporter.
The Kremlin said Friday that Putin would seek binding guarantees preventing NATO expansion into Ukraine during talks with Biden, while the Ukrainian Defense Minister warned that Russia could invade his country next month
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers on Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, warning that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.
There are signs that the White House and Kremlin are on the verge of arranging a talks between Biden and Putin next week. Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Friday that arrangements had been made for a call between Putin and Biden in the coming days. The Russians say a date has been agreed but refused to say when.
Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj have also tentatively agreed to a call for next week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian President who was not allowed to speak publicly and who spoke on condition of anonymity.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said government officials “took the opportunity” of calling Biden Putin. White House officials did not respond to a request for comment on the expected call from Zelenskyi.
“It would certainly be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the bellicose rhetoric and military build-up we see on the border with Ukraine,” said Psaki of a possible phone call from Biden and Putin.
Biden did not provide any information about the actions he rejected. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met Foreign Minister Antony Blinken in Sweden on Thursday, said the US had threatened new sanctions. He did not provide any information about the possible sanctions, but indicated that the effort would not be effective.
“When the new ‘sanctions from hell’ come, we will react,” Lavrov said. “We can’t help but respond.”
Psaki said the government will try to coordinate with its European allies if it moves ahead with the sanctions. She noted that bitter memories of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea Peninsula that has been under Ukraine’s control since 1954, are at the fore when the White House ponders the way forward.
“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” said Psaki. “We see that he creates the capacity to take action at short notice.”
Deep differences could be seen During the Blinken Lavrov meeting, at which the Russian official accused, the West “played with fire” by denying Russia a say in any further NATO expansion into countries of the former Soviet Union. Zelenskyi has urged Ukraine to join the alliance, which promises membership but has not set a timetable.
Blinken said this week that the US had “made it clear to the Kremlin that we will react decisively, including with a number of far-reaching economic measures that we have waived in the past.”
He did not provide any information on which sanctions would be weighed, but Russia could possibly be cut off from the SWIFT system of international payments. The Parliament of the European Union passed a non-binding resolution in April to cut Russia off from SWIFT if its troops invade Ukraine.
Such a move would go a long way in blocking Russian companies from the global financial system. Western allies reportedly considered such a move in 2014 and 2015 during the earlier escalation of tensions over Ukraine under Russian leadership.
The then Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it was tantamount to a “declaration of war”.
Relations between the US and Russia have been rocky since Biden took office.
In addition to the Ukraine issue, the Biden government has imposed sanctions on Russian targets and called Putin over the Kremlin’s interference in US elections, malicious cyber activities against US companies, and the treatment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and later locked up.
Putin and Biden met in person in Geneva in June. The US president warned that if Russia crossed certain red lines – including pursuing key American infrastructures – its administration would react and “the consequences would be devastating”.
Isachenkov answered from Moscow. Associate press journalist Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington contributed to the coverage.
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