As tensions between Washington and Moscow escalate over a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, US intelligence has discovered that the Kremlin is planning a multi-front offensive as early as next year with up to 175,000 troops, according to US officials and an intelligence document obtained Washington Post.
The Kremlin is sending troops to the border with Ukraine, demanding from Washington guarantees that Ukraine will not join NATO and that the alliance will refrain from certain hostilities in and around Ukraine. The crisis has sparked fears of a renewed war on European soil and comes ahead of a virtual meeting scheduled next week between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Russian plans call for a military offensive against Ukraine in early 2022 with a scale of forces twice that which we saw last spring during Russia’s operational exercises near Ukraine’s borders,” an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity for discussion. confidential information. “The plans include extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups of about 175,000 men, as well as armored vehicles, artillery and equipment.”
An unclassified US intelligence document obtained by The Post, which includes satellite photographs, shows that Russian troops are concentrating in four locations. According to the document, 50 combat tactical groups, as well as “newly arrived” tanks and artillery, are currently deployed.
While Ukrainian estimates indicate that Russia has about 94,000 troops near the border, the US map puts this number at 70,000, but projected a buildup of 175,000 and describes the extensive movement of battalion tactical groups to and from the border. “To conceal intentions. and create uncertainty. “
US analysis of Russia’s plans is based in part on satellite imagery that “shows newly arrived units at various locations along the Ukrainian border over the past month,” the official said.
The details of US intelligence provide a picture that Secretary of State Anthony Blinken began to paint this week during his trip to Europe, where he described “evidence that Russia has developed plans for serious aggressive action against Ukraine” and warned that this would have serious consequences. including highly effective economic measures if Russia invades.
Biden said he was preparing measures to raise the cost of any new invasion for Putin, who dismissed US warnings as rumors and said Russia was not a threat to anyone. “I am 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 forward and do what people fear he might do,” Biden said. said Friday.
The Russian military action comes at a time when Moscow has surprised Washington with a sudden mobilization of reservists this year and a sharp escalation of its rhetoric against Ukraine.
Russian officials defended the mobilization of the reserve as a necessary measure to modernize the Russian military. But the administration official expressed concern about a “sudden and swift program to create a ready-made reserve of contract reservists,” which he said is expected to add 100,000 troops to the roughly 70,000 currently deployed.
The news of possible troop increases reinforces Blinken’s warning earlier this week that Putin could quickly order an invasion of Ukraine, and helps explain why Biden administration officials have been sounding the alarm about imminent invasion for weeks.
“We do not know if President Putin made the decision to invade. We do know that he creates an opportunity to do this in a short time if he makes such a decision, ”Blinken told reporters in Europe the day before meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “We have to prepare for all contingencies.”
In public comments this week, Lavrov echoed Putin’s warnings about military equipment and US activity encroaching on Russia’s borders, and said: “The nightmarish scenario of military confrontation is returning.”
The intelligence document also suggests that Russian forces can leave equipment at training facilities so that an attack on Ukraine can be launched quickly.
“Equipment can be left at different training grounds to ensure a quick final build-up,” the document says.
In addition, a Ukrainian government official said that Russian military exercises held earlier this year near Ukraine’s borders effectively helped Russian troops rehearse the invasion.
“The Russian troops worked out the issues of creating shock groups near the borders of our state, mobilization measures, material and technical support of the groupings. [and] “The transfer of significant military contingents, including by air” from Russia to the border with Ukraine, the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate analysis.
In laying the groundwork for the invasion, the Russian government is also waging a propaganda campaign, according to a US administration official.
“In addition, last month, our information indicates that Russian proxies and the media have begun to increase the volume of material defaming Ukraine and NATO, in part to blame Ukraine for the potential escalation of Russian military escalation,” he said. official.
“Recent information also indicates that Russian officials have proposed adjusting Russia’s information operations against Ukraine to emphasize the version that Ukrainian leaders were installed by the West, harbor hatred of the“ Russian world ”and act against the interests of the Ukrainian people. “
In his comments in Latvia, Blinken urged Ukrainians not to give Russia a pretext for military action. “We also urge Ukraine to continue to exercise restraint because, again, the Russian scenario is to declare provocation against something that they have been planning to do all this time,” he said.
Putin demanded that the United States and its allies provide signed guarantees ruling out any NATO expansion to include Ukraine and Georgia and limiting military activities along Russia’s borders, primarily in and around Ukraine.
Demands for a new European security pact came after Putin for months proposed that US and allied military action in Ukraine and near Russia’s borders cross the Kremlin’s red line.
Russia needs “precise legal and judicial guarantees, because our Western colleagues have not fulfilled their verbal obligations,” Putin said in his Kremlin speech this week, proposing to start “substantive negotiations on this topic.”
Putin has long criticized NATO’s expansion into the former Warsaw Pact countries as a disrespectful assault on Moscow. He said that a specific agreement should “rule out any further expansion of NATO to the east and the deployment of weapons systems that pose a threat to us in the immediate vicinity of Russian territory.”
White House spokesman Jen Psaki vehemently rejected the idea that Washington would provide guarantees that Ukraine would not join NATO.
“NATO member states decide who is a NATO member, not Russia,” Psaki told reporters during a White House briefing on Friday. “This is how this process has always worked and how it will develop. I think it’s important to remember where the provocation comes from. This is not the USA. This is not Ukraine. “
US and Ukrainian officials and military analysts believe Russia will make a much larger invasion now than it did in 2014, when the country annexed Crimea and sparked a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine. The plan, officials and analysts suggest, could be to force Ukrainian forces to fight on multiple fronts, aiming less for territory than for the surrender of Kiev and its Western backers, leading to the security guarantees Putin wants. Military analysts have compared this strategy to Moscow’s 2008 invasion of Georgia.
Putin said this week that exercises with US strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear warheads over the Black Sea pose a threat to Moscow, along with US missile defense systems in Poland and Romania. He also expressed concern over the deployment of NATO missiles on Ukrainian territory, which could take from seven to 10 minutes to reach Moscow, although no such plans were reported.