Putin troop buildup near Ukraine raises concerns of potential 2022 invasion, US officials say

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (AP)


  • Expected Russian force of 175,000 would dwarf troop levels from earlier massing in the spring

Russian President Vladimir Putin is amassing a force expected to total 175,000 troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine, giving him the capability for a potential invasion of his neighbor by early 2022, administration officials said Friday.

The officials, citing new intelligence reports that include images from spy satellites, said the Russian military buildup differs markedly from an earlier massing of troops in the spring. When completed, they said, it will be twice the size of that previous buildup. In addition, Russia has embarked on a rapid mobilization of reservists.

The officials cautioned that U.S. intelligence agencies don’t know whether Russia will in fact invade Ukraine, whose ties with the West have been opposed by Mr. Putin. The intelligence reporting, while containing new details, echoes concerns raised earlier by the U.S. and its allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

The Russian military moves in recent weeks have sharply heightened tensions with the U.S., which has warned of serious reprisals, and with the NATO alliance.

“If Russia decides to pursue confrontation, there will be serious consequences," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday before meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm.

The Washington Post earlier reported the new U.S. assessment, publishing what it said was an unclassified intelligence report that included images of troop concentrations in four locations on Russian soil along its Ukraine border.

The Wall Street Journal hasn’t seen the unclassified document, but U.S. officials confirmed its authenticity.

“The Russian plans call for a military offensive against Ukraine as soon as early 2022 with a scale of forces twice what we saw this past spring during Russia’s rapid military buildup near Ukraine’s borders," one of the administration officials said. “The plans involve extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups with an estimated 175,000 personnel, along with armor, artillery, and equipment."

“We estimate half of these units are already near Ukraine’s border," the official said.

Russia has denied that it is preparing to invade its smaller neighbor and has accused NATO of providing Ukraine with sophisticated weaponry, fomenting tension and destabilizing the region. Russian officials have said they don’t want any conflicts and Moscow wants a balance of interests in the region.

U.S. officials have been attempting to approach Russia’s military deployments diplomatically. Russia’s Mr. Putin and U.S. President Biden will hold talks on Tuesday, Russian state media reported Saturday, citing Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. The White also confirmed Mr. Biden is speaking Tuesday with Mr. Putin.

“President Biden will underscore U.S. concerns with Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Saturday.

On Friday, Yury Ushakov, Russian presidential aide, told Russian state media and independent Russian news outlets that the meeting between the two presidents will address legal obligations on no eastward expansion by NATO and an agreement not to deploy threatening weapons in Russia’s neighboring countries, including Ukraine. They will also touch on the “unsatisfactory state" of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia, Ukraine’s internal crisis and the situation in Afghanistan, according to the Russian state media report.

Mr. Biden also said Friday his administration is putting together a plan “to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do." Later, when asked about what the U.S. can do to prevent an invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Biden said, “We’ve been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is we’re going to have a long discussion."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley on Thursday said the activity near Ukraine had triggered “a lot of concern."

“There’s significant national security interests of the United States and of NATO member states at stake here if there was an overt act of aggressive action militarily by the Russians into a nation state that has been independent since 1991," he told reporters on a military jet Friday.

Gen. Milley didn’t elaborate on options open to the U.S. if Russia did take action.

Mr. Blinken suggested earlier this week that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. would deploy harsh economic sanctions of a type it has held back from using so far. Mr. Blinken didn’t provide specifics.

The White House is conducting a review of U.S. options to respond to Russia, and they range from more military support for Ukraine to stepped-up diplomacy to de-escalate the conflict, according to U.S. officials.

In 2014, Russian-backed forces seized parts of eastern Ukraine, and Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.

The administration official said information the U.S. has acquired indicates Russia is already conducting information operations to support a potential invasion. Russian officials are proposing information operations “to emphasize the narrative that Ukrainian leaders had been installed by the West, harbored a hatred for the ‘Russian world,’ and were acting against the interests of the Ukrainian people," the official said.



This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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