U.S. intelligence finds Russia planning Ukraine offensive

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Ukrainian soldiers in Harnitne, Ukraine, November 5, 2021. According to people familiar with the matter, the Biden administration is trying to prevent Russian President Vladimir Putin from taking provocative measures against Ukraine.Brendan Hoffman/The New York Times News Service

US President Joe Biden on Friday vowed to make it “very, very difficult” for Russia’s Vladimir Putin to take military action in Ukraine as US intelligence officials determined Russian plans for a possible military offensive were underway. Which could start in early 2022.

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The new intelligence finding suggests that the Russians are planning to deploy an estimated 175,000 troops and about half of them are already stationed at various points near the border with Ukraine, according to a Biden administration official who conducted the discovery. spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter.

It comes as Russia has raised its demands on Biden to guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the NATO alliance.

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The official said the plan calls for movement of 100 battalion tactical groups as well as armour, artillery and equipment.

Intelligence officials have also seen an intensification of Russian propaganda efforts through the use of proxies and media outlets to discredit Ukraine and NATO prior to a possible invasion, the official said.

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When asked about the intelligence search that led to his return to the presidency at Camp David on Friday evening, Biden reiterated his concerns about Russian provocation.

“We have been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and I look forward to having a long discussion with Putin,” Biden said.

The risks of such a gamble for Putin, if he actually went through with an invasion, would be enormous.

US officials and former US diplomats say that while Putin is clearly laying the groundwork for a possible invasion, Ukraine’s military is better armed and prepared today than in years past, and Russia’s response to sanctions threatened by the West. The economy will suffer serious damage. They say it is unclear whether Putin intends to undergo the risky attack.

Earlier on Friday, Biden promised to make it “very, very difficult” for Putin to take military action in Ukraine and said new initiatives coming from his administration are aimed at deterring Russian aggression.

“What I’m doing is putting together what I think will be the most comprehensive and meaningful initiative for Mr. Putin to pursue,” Biden said. from reporters.

The Kremlin said on Friday that Putin would seek binding guarantees to halt NATO expansion in Ukraine during a meeting with Biden. But Biden sought to meet the demand.

“I don’t accept anybody’s red line,” Biden said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials have also warned that Russia may launch an attack next month. Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told lawmakers on Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russia-affiliated Crimea is 94,300, warning that a “massive increase” is possible in January. US intelligence officials estimate some 70,000 troops are stationed near the border, according to an unclassified intelligence document obtained Friday by the Associated Press.

The intelligence findings were first reported by The Washington Post.

There are signs the White House and the Kremlin are close to arranging talks between Biden and Putin next week. Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Friday that a Putin-Biden call has been arranged in the coming days, adding that the date would be announced after Moscow and Washington finalize details. The Russians say a date has been agreed, but declined to say when.

Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have also tentatively agreed to hold a call next week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian president, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Were.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said administration officials are “looking into the prospect” of the Biden-Putin call. White House officials did not respond to a request for comment on the expected Zelensky call.

“This will certainly be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about war rhetoric, about the military build-up that we are seeing on the border with Ukraine,” Psaki said of the potential Biden-Putin call.

Biden did not elaborate on what actions he was weighing. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who met with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken in Sweden on Thursday, said the US threatened new sanctions. He did not give details of possible sanctions, but suggested the effort would not be effective.

“If new ‘bans from Hell’ come, we will respond,” Lavrov said. “We can’t fail to respond.”

Saki said the administration would coordinate with European allies if it went ahead with the sanctions. He said bitter memories of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954, are on the front of the mind as the White House contemplates the way forward.

“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Saki said. “We see that he’s putting the ability to take action in short order.”

Deep differences were on display during the Blinken–Lavrov meeting, with Russian officials accusing the West of “playing with fire” by denying Russia any further expansion of NATO into former Soviet Union countries. Zelensky has urged Ukraine to join the coalition, which delivers on the promise of membership but does not set a timeline.

This week Blinken said the US “has made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond strongly, including a number of high-impact economic measures that we have avoided using in the past.”

He did not elaborate on which sanctions are being weighed, but one potential could be to separate Russia from the SWIFT system of international payments. The EU parliament approved a non-binding resolution in April to separate Russia from SWIFT if its troops enter Ukraine.

Such a move would go a long way toward blocking Russian businesses from the global financial system. Western allies have reportedly considered such a move in 2014 and 2015, when Russia-led tensions over Ukraine escalated.

The then Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it would be tantamount to a “declaration of war”.

But some US government officials say Putin may also seek attention and concessions from Biden and other Western leaders, using military escalation to return Russia to a central role in world affairs as it did in the Soviet Union. Was.

“They are seriously jealous of the superpower status and the similarity of the United States that existed during the Cold War. That is all,” said former US ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst.

An invasion is possible, but more likely, “they provoke a crisis, they get concessions from us, and then they defuse the crisis. Right? And that, I think, is probably their purpose,” Herbst said. Said on Friday.

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