The US intelligence service finds that Russia is planning Ukraine as an offensive

The official added that the plans require the movement of 100 Russian battalion tactical groups along with armor, artillery and equipment.

Intelligence officials have also seen an increase in Russian propaganda efforts through the use of proxies and media to demean Ukraine and NATO ahead of a potential invasion, the official said.

Asked about the intelligence finding as he headed for the President’s retreat at Camp David on Friday night, Biden reiterated his concerns over Russian provocations.

“We have been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is that we will have a long discussion with Putin,” Biden said.

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

U.S. officials and former U.S. 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 previous years, and sanctions threatened by the West would do serious damage to Russia’s economy. It remains unclear whether Putin intends to go through with what would be a risky offensive, they say.

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

“What I am doing is putting together what I believe will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he can do. do, “Biden said. journalists.

The Kremlin said Friday that Putin would seek binding guarantees that preclude NATO enlargement to Ukraine during the call with Biden. But Biden tried to ward off demand.

“I do not accept anyone’s red line,” Biden said.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials also warned that Russia could invade 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. U.S. intelligence officials estimate that close to 70,000 troops are stationed near the border, according to an unclassified intelligence document released by The Associated Press on Friday.

The intelligence findings were first reported by The Washington Post.

There are signs that the White House and the Kremlin are close to arranging a conversation next week between Biden and Putin. Putin’s foreign adviser Yuri Ushakov said on Friday that arrangements have been made for a Putin-Biden call in the coming days, adding that the date will be announced after Moscow and Washington finalize the details. The Russians say a date has been agreed, but declined to say when.

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

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said administration officials have “engaged in the possibility” of a Biden-Putin call. White House officials did not respond to a request for comment on the expected Zelenskyy call.

“It would certainly be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the belligerent rhetoric, about the military build-up that we see on the border with Ukraine,” Psaki said of a potential Biden-Putin call.

Biden did not detail what actions he weighed. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met with Foreign Minister Antony Blinken in Sweden on Thursday, said the United States had threatened new sanctions. He did not describe the potential sanctions, but suggested that the effort would not be effective.

“If the new ‘sanctions from hell’ come, we will respond,” Lavrov said. “We can not fail to respond.”

Psaki said the administration would look to coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She noted that bitter memories of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Black Sea Peninsula, which had been under Ukrainian control since 1954, are in mind when the White House considers the way forward.

“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Psaki said. “We see that he puts the capacity in place to act in a short time.”

Deep disagreements were shown during the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, where the Russian official accused the West of “playing with fire” by refusing Russia to influence any further NATO enlargement to countries in the former Soviet Union. Zelenskyy has been pushing for Ukraine to join the alliance, which keeps its promise of membership but has not set a timeline.

Blinken said this week that the United States has “made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a series of economic measures that we have refrained from in the past.”

He did not detail what sanctions were being considered, but one could potentially be to cut off Russia from the SWIFT system of international payments. The European Union’s parliament approved a non-binding decision in April to cut off Russia from SWIFT – the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications – if its troops invaded Ukraine.

Such a step would go a long way towards blocking Russian companies from the global financial system. Western allies have reportedly considered such a move in 2014 and 2015, during previous Russian-led escalations of tensions over Ukraine.

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

But some US officials say Putin could also seek the attention and concessions of Biden and other Western leaders by using military escalation to force Russia back to a central role in world affairs, as it had in Soviet days.

“They are seriously envious of the superpower status and … the parity with the United States that existed during the Cold War. That’s what it’s all about, ”said John Herbst, a former US ambassador to Ukraine.

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

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