VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, YURAS KARMANAU
MOSCOW (NWN) – The Kremlin said Friday that President Vladimir Putin will seek binding guarantees against NATO expansion into Ukraine during a scheduled conversation with US President Joe Biden, while a US intelligence report and Ukraine’s defense minister warned of a possible invasion Russia to Ukraine. already next month.
As tensions escalate between Russia and the West, Biden said his administration “is developing what I consider to be the most complete and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go forward and do what people are concerned about. … he can make “the deployment of troops near Ukraine.
The NATO chief and numerous former US diplomats and security officials say Russia’s demand for Biden to exclude NATO membership for Ukraine, a former Soviet republic seeking an alliance with the West, is untenable.
“There is absolutely no way in the world for this position of Russia to bring any progress,” former US Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst said on Friday. “This is basically a rhetorical thesis for Moscow.” According to him, the more probable were the US assurances that the Western military aid to Ukraine would be for defensive purposes only.
Ukraine, the United States and other Western allies are increasingly worried that a Russian troop buildup near the Ukrainian border could signal Moscow’s intention to invade. Officials say it remains unclear whether Putin intends to invade or appears to be threatening an invasion in hopes of gaining concessions from Ukraine and its Western allies. The US threatened the Kremlin with the toughest sanctions if it launched an attack, while Russia warned that any presence of NATO troops and weapons on Ukrainian soil would cross the red line.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov told lawmakers on Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in the Russian-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, warning that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.
An unclassified US intelligence report released later Friday cited the recent movement of artillery, troops and equipment near the Ukrainian border, which said Russia is planning a military offensive involving 175,000 troops early next year.
“The plans include the extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups … along with armored vehicles, artillery and equipment,” the United States said in a statement, which said about half of these units are already at the border with Ukraine. The intelligence find was first reported by The Washington Post. A spokesman for the Biden administration, who wished to discuss the find on condition of anonymity, confirmed this to the Associated Press.
Amid growing tensions, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Friday that conditions for a telephone conversation between Putin and Biden had already been agreed in the coming days, adding that the date would be announced after Moscow and Washington had finalized details.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki later said administration officials “considered the possibility” of a call from Biden and Putin.
“This will certainly be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the belligerent rhetoric, about the military build-up that we are seeing on the border with Ukraine,” said Psaki.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met face to face with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Stockholm to demand that Russia withdraw its troops from the border with Ukraine. Lavrov objected that the West is “playing with fire” by denying Russia the right to vote in further NATO expansion into the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Ukraine insisted on joining an alliance that promised membership but did not set a timeline.
Ushakov noted that during his conversation with Biden, Putin will demand a legally binding agreement that “rules out any further NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that could threaten us in neighboring countries, including Ukraine.”
According to Ushakov, Russia has long insisted on such agreements, stressing that they have become especially acute due to the recent escalation of tensions. “This cannot continue,” he said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week that Russia has no say in Ukraine’s joining the Western Security Alliance.
“Ukraine and 30 allies must decide when Ukraine is ready to join the alliance,” he said. Russia “has neither a veto, nor the right to interfere in this process.”
Russia and Ukraine remain in a tense tug-of-war after Russia annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist uprising in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland known as the Donbass. More than 14,000 people were killed in the fighting.
Ukraine’s defense minister warned on Friday that an escalation of the conflict “is a plausible, but not a definite scenario, and our task is to prevent it.”
“Our intelligence analyzes all scenarios, including the worst ones,” Reznikov said. “The most likely time when (Russia) will be ready for escalation is the end of January.”
Konstantin Kosachev, deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, confirmed that Moscow denies it is contemplating an attack.
“We have no plans to attack Ukraine. We do not have increased military activity near the borders of Ukraine. No preparations are under way for an offensive, ”Kosachev told Russian state TV channel Russia-24.
The Kremlin has expressed concern that Ukraine might use force to regain control of the rebellious East. Tensions have been exacerbated as the head of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed separatist republic in eastern Ukraine said on Thursday that he could turn to Moscow for military assistance if the region faced a Ukrainian attack.
Reznikov said that Ukraine will not do anything to provoke Russia, but is ready to respond in the event of an attack. “Ukraine is most interested in a political and diplomatic settlement,” the Minister of Defense said.
He said that this month Ukraine, with the support of the UK, will begin construction of two naval bases – in Ochakov on the Black Sea and in Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov.
“The development of the navy and the missile program are among our priorities,” he said.
This was reported by Karmanov from Kiev, Ukraine. Ellen Knickmeyer and Amer Madhani from Washington DC and Dasha Litvinova from Moscow contributed to this report.