Biden and Putin go head-to-head in Ukraine crisis talks

Biden and Putin go head-to-head in Ukraine crisis talks: US President tells Vladimir Russia will be hit with its toughest sanctions yet if his troops invade – after Kiev warned of a ‘bloody massacre’

  • Ukraine’s Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said there would be a ‘bloody massacre’ if Russia invaded Kiev
  • U.S. President Joe Biden will call Russian President Vladimir Putin today to discuss the build-up of troops 
  • Satellite images have revealed huge new camps of Russian troops, tanks and artillery at Ukraine border
  • Kiev accused Russia of deploying tanks and additional snipers to the front line amid warnings Russia to invade

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin began virtual crisis talks on Ukraine today, amid Western fears that Moscow plans to attack Kiev.

Biden will tell Putin that Russia will be hit with the toughest sanctions yet if its troops invade Ukraine amid warnings that Moscow is planning to do so in weeks.

The sanctions, which could target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert its national currency roubles into dollars and other currencies, are designed to dissuade the Russian President from using tens of thousands of troops massed near the Ukrainian border to attack its southern neighbour.

The beginning of the talks come as Ukraine warned of a ‘bloody massacre’ and five million Ukrainian refugees fleeing into Europe if Russia decides to invade Kiev. 

The Kremlin said escalating tensions in Europe are ‘off the scale’ ahead of the crunch talks between Biden and Putin, while Kiev accused Russia of deploying tanks and additional sniper teams near the Ukrainian border.

Satellite images have revealed huge new camps of Russian troops, tanks and artillery along the border as Putin continues massing his forces on Europe’s doorstep.  

The Kremlin, announcing the start of the virtual meeting, said it would ‘last as long as necessary. 

Reflecting the tension around the event, the White House staged the video conference behind closed doors in the high security Situation Room. In contrast, Biden held a similar video summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping three weeks ago in the more decorative Roosevelt Room, with journalists invited to witness the opening minutes.  

The US President plans to warn Putin of severe economic consequences if Russia invades neighbouring Ukraine in an effort to gain a diplomatic solution to deal with the tens of thousands of Russian troops at the border.   

Tensions along Europe’s eastern border have been simmering since Putin annexed Crimea back in 2014, and have been threatening to boil over ever since Moscow began massing forces in the region starting in April this year.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin began virtual crisis talks on Ukraine today, amid Western fears that Moscow plans to attack Kiev.

Reservists from Russia’s Combat Army Reserve perform firing exercises as part of a training camp at Prudboy firing range near Volgograd, a city in southwest Russia

The Kremlin has warned that escalating tensions in Europe are ‘off the scale’ ahead of crunch talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden

Russia now has 50 battalions comprising up to 94,000 troops stationed on the Ukrainian border with another 80,000 – 100,000 sitting in reserve and will be ready to invade within weeks, the US has warned

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told CNN there would be a ‘really bloody massacre’ if Russia invaded Ukraine and warned that ‘Russian guys also will come back in coffins

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that Moscow regretted what he called the White House’s predictable tendency to resort to sanctions, but said that Putin was ready to hear out Biden’s concerns and that the Kremlin leader wanted to set out his own.

‘There’s no need to expect any breakthroughs from this conversation. It is a working conversation at a very difficult period,’ Peskov said.

‘The escalation of tensions in Europe is off the scale, it is extraordinary, and this requires a personal discussion at the highest level,’ he added.

Earlier today, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told CNN there would be a ‘really bloody massacre’ if Russia invaded Ukraine and warned that ‘Russian guys also will come back in coffins’.   

The UK has joined Western leaders in vowing to form a ‘united front’ over Russian hostility toward Ukraine, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowing to use all ‘economic and diplomatic tools at the UK’s disposal’.   

UK Foreign Minister Vicky Ford today said the cost of Russia invading Ukraine would be ‘catastrophically high’ and the UK is considering an extension of ‘purely defensive’ support for Kiev.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Russia will be hit with tougher EU sanctions if its military threatens Ukraine.   

The Kremlin, which said before the meeting it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring intensions to invade Ukraine. 

But Moscow has voiced rising vexation over Western military aid to Ukraine, a fellow former Soviet republic that has tilted towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what it calls creeping NATO expansion.

Moscow has likewise questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kyiv will not use force to try to retake territory lost in 2014 to Russia-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.

‘We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,’ said Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov.

Calling for everyone to keep ‘a cool head’, Peskov said it was vital that Putin and Biden speak given what he called the extraordinary escalation of tensions in Europe.

The Russian rouble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would de-escalate tensions and others saying that the U.S. sanctions threat eroded hopes of finding common ground.

It comes as Ukraine’s defence ministry accused Russia of deploying additional sniper teams and tanks to the front line of the conflict. 

The defence ministry said in a statement: ‘The enemy increased the number of sniper pairs in readiness to inflict casualties on the personnel of the Joint Forces, destroy video surveillance elements and provoke return fire.’

Rezikov warned that a Russian invasion would have ‘disastrous’ consequences for Europe as up to five million Ukrainians would seek refuge in the continent. He also said as Ukraine is a major food supplier to Europe and Africa, supply chain issues could occur. 

Speaking about Biden and Putin’s call later today, Reznikov said: ‘If I can advise President Biden, I would like him to articulate to Mr Putin that no red lines from the Kremlin side should be here. 

‘The red line is here in Ukraine and the civilised world will react without hesitation. The idea of not provoking Russia will not work.’     

Reservists from the country’s Combat Army Reserve perform firing exercises as part of a training camp at Prudboy firing range near Volgograd

Marines of the Caspian Flotilla conducted exercises at the Adanak training range in Dagestan, the Russian republic by the Caspian Sea 

The aviation regiment near Chelyabinsk held warplane training In the sky over Shagol airbase

The Kremlin has demanded a legal commitment that NATO will not expand to include Ukraine as its member.

‘If we share or spread panic in our country and inside of our society, it will be the gift to the Kremlin, because they trying to do that,’ Rezikov told CNN.

‘Because this gathering of their troops alongside of our border, it’s a main goal of them to make destabilization process inside of our country, to stop us in our way. But we go into the NATO ally, we’re going to EU,’ he added. 

The defence minister said that while Ukraine has asked its allies for military equipment aid, including training for its troops, from its allies, Kiev will not be asking for troops. 

‘We don’t need troops, because I think it’s not so fair that American soldiers will die in Ukraine. No, we don’t need that,’ said Reznikov.   

Western leaders last night vowed to form a ‘united front’ over Russian threats and hostility toward Ukraine.

The leaders of the US, UK, France, Italy and Germany called on Moscow to de-escalate tensions ahead of the key phone call between Putin and Biden. 

They discussed a package of sanctions against Putin’s regime should he invade Ukraine, with Boris Johnson vowing to use all ‘economic and diplomatic tools at the UK’s disposal’.

The leaders are understood to have devised a strategy to impose significant damage on the Russian economy.

UK Foreign Minister Vicky Ford today told the Commons that the cost of Russia invading Ukraine would be ‘catastrophically high’ and the UK is considering an extension of ‘purely defensive’ support for Ukraine.

Ford said: ‘Any military incursion by Russia into Ukraine would be a strategic mistake. ‘The Russian Government should expect significant strategic consequences. The costs of an incursion would be catastrophically high.’ 

She added: ‘Let us be very clear, we stand by Ukraine and we are considering an extension of purely defensive support to Ukraine to help Ukraine defend itself. ‘Putin needs to de-escalate now and return to diplomatic channels.’  

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Russia will be hit with tougher EU sanctions if its military threatens Ukraine.  

‘The European Union will respond appropriately to any further aggression including breaches of international law and any other malicious actions taken against us or our neighbours, including Ukraine,’ she said in a videolink speech to EU ambassadors.

‘This response will take the form of robust scaling-up and expansion of existing sanctions regimes. And on top of that, we are ready to take additional restrictive measures,’ she said. 

Von der Leyen emphasised the European Union’s ‘full and unwavering support for Ukraine in the face of this aggression’ represented by what she called a ‘massive’ Russian military buildup along Ukraine’s border.

‘Currently, it is Russia’s deliberate choices and aggressive actions that continue to destabilise security in Europe,’ she said. 

Biden and Putin met in Geneva in June – the first meeting of the pair since Biden took over the White House. They will speak by phone on Tuesday

Reservists from the country’s Combat Army Reserve perform firing exercises as part of a training camp at Prudboy firing range near Volgograd

The aviation regiment near Chelyabinsk held warplane training In the sky over Shagol airbase

Marines of the Caspian Flotilla conducted exercises at the Adanak training range in Dagestan

The aviation regiment near Chelyabinsk held warplane training In the sky over Shagol airbase

Satellite images show increasing numbers of Russian troops massing on the border of Ukraine – as many as 175,000 according to US analysts.

Measures being considered by Nato are understood to include cutting off Russia from the international financial settlement system, according to The Times. 

President Biden is expected to warn in his phone call that the US would deploy ‘additional forces and capabilities’ to Eastern Europe in response to an invasion.

However, it is believed that he would not go so far as to threaten a direct US military response. A Downing Street spokesman said the leaders emphasised the need for ‘a united front in the face of Russian threats and hostility’.

Latvia on Tuesday said the West must send a strong message to Russia to deter it from Ukraine, including cutting Russia off from the SWIFT international payment system, sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and strengthening NATO’s eastern flank. 

Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rink said: ‘Russia needs to know in advance what the economic price tag is.’   

Rink said it was unclear if Putin was simply trying to test the West’s resolve or if the Kremlin planned a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

‘Maybe astrology or some other more precise science needs to be involved. But I do believe that Ukraine for Russia and President Putin is an essential part of the kind of vision of a great Russia,’ Rink said. 

He said that if Russia does invade Ukraine, the West should prepare a very strong economic sanctions package, including cutting Russia off from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks around the world and sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

The NATO military alliance should also boost its presence across Eastern Europe to deter Putin and individual NATO allies might provide arms to Ukraine, Rink said. 

‘NATO needs to increase its presence in the eastern flank to show Russia that the price of doing some military adventure in Ukraine is more troops, more defence capability and underlying defence capability in the Baltic States, in Poland, in Romania, in Bulgaria,’ he said.

NATO has in recent years strengthened its presence in the Baltic states and across Eastern Europe, a step that has dismayed the Kremlin.

RinkÄviÄs said battle groups in the Baltics should be reinforced, air defences strengthened, logistical security improved and an increased U.S. presence on the ground.

‘Seeing what is happening now in and around Ukraine, we need also to review where we are with the defence of the eastern flank of NATO,’ RinkÄviÄs said.

‘That means more capabilities that could actually send a very strong deterrent message to Russia.’  

Russia is adamant the US should guarantee that Ukraine will not be admitted to the Nato military alliance. 

The Biden administration refused to rule out deploying additional US troops to Eastern Europe should Putin invade Ukraine, although sources insist there are no plans for direct military action against the Kremlin. 

A White House spokesman said Monday evening said that Biden had spoken to the leaders of France, the UK, Germany and Italy, and they discussed ‘their shared concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric.’  

The White House said: ‘The leaders underscored their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’ 

Biden will threaten Putin with ‘substantial economic’ sanctions should he invade Ukraine, according to reports. They’re likely to be similar to the economic sanctions imposed on Iran over its attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. 

The plans against Putin would mirror the way Iran was isolated for failing to comply with the nuclear deal. 

It comes as Russia engaged in new war games as Moscow announced that its Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bombers have made their first flights from a renovated military airport just 105 miles from the Ukrainian border.  

‘Crews of the Western Military District’s bomber regiment have started to perform the first planned flights at the reconstructed Baltimore airfield in Voronezh,’ said a military statement.

‘During the training flights, the bomber crews practiced takeoff and landing in various weather conditions.’

Russia said last week that the first 17 Su-34 fighter bombers had been deployed at the base – and now flights have started.

New footage shows the Su-34s in action from the revamped base with a two-and-a-half mile long runway giving it ‘the ability to accept aircraft of all classes and any size’.

In Chelyabinsk, the command staff of the aviation regiment of the Central Military District (CVO) flew more than 50 sorties in Su-34s and the Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft.

In Dagestan, Black Beret marines of the Caspian Flotilla, supported by aircraft, foiled a mock enemy landing in separate drills.

And Russian reservists were given firepower training during a three day camp, according to reports citing military sources.

They were trained in firing small arms and using RPG-7 anti-tank grenade launchers at the Prudboy combined arms range in Volgograd region. 

Ukraine’s flag flies as President Volodymyr Zelensky salutes the troops in Kharkiv on Monday during Ukraine’s Day of the Armed Forces

Putin has made preparations to invade Ukraine but it’s unclear he’s made the final decision to do so, a senior US administration official said on Monday.

The official noted the US was ready to show a ‘combination of support for the Ukrainian military, strong economic countermeasures, and the substantial increase in support and capability to our NATO allies’ if Moscow moved forward with an attack.

The official briefed reporters on the situation in the Ukraine ahead of Biden’s call with Putin on Tuesday.

Taking a tough tone ahead of the conversation between the two leaders, the official noted that the U.S. and Europeans are prepared to place ‘substantial economic’ sanctions on Russia should Putin invade the Ukraine – a message President Biden will send during the virtual talk with his Russian counterpart. 

While the official wouldn’t commit to the United States putting boots on the ground in the Ukraine to help President Volodymyr Zelensky, the person did say that in the event of an invasion, the US would offer reassurance to NATO allies with additional forces. 

‘To be clear, we do not know whether President Putin has made a decision about further military escalation in Ukraine. But we do know that he is putting in place the capacity to engage in such escalation should he decide to do so. We’ve seen this Russian playbook before in 2014 when Russia last invaded Ukraine,’ the senior administration official said.

‘We have seen the movement of additional capabilities and forces to the vicinity of Ukraine in multiple different areas. And these movements are consistent with the planning that we see underway for a military escalation in Ukraine,’ the official added. 

The official added that Russia could still choose a ‘different course’ and the Biden administration is encouraging Moscow to ‘return to dialogue through diplomatic avenues.   

On Monday night, The White House said: ‘Today, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, and President Biden of the United States held a call. 

‘The leaders discussed their shared concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric. 

‘They called on Russia to de-escalate tensions and agreed that diplomacy, especially through the Normandy Format, is the only way forward to resolve the conflict in Donbas through the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. 

‘The leaders underscored their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. 

‘They agreed that their teams will stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a coordinated and comprehensive approach.’ 

Marines of the Caspian Flotilla conducted exercises at the Adanak training range in Dagestan

Marines of the Caspian Flotilla conducted exercises at the Adanak training range in Dagestan

The situation in the Ukraine is expected to be the dominate topic of Biden and Putin’s conversation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. 

‘It’s also an opportunity to discuss a range of topics in the US and Russia relationship including strategic stability, cyber and regional issues, but you can certainly expect that the our concerns about the military activities on the border will be a prominent part of the discussion,’ she said at her press briefing of the Tuesday call. 

‘I think our objective from the beginning of the president’s time in office has not been to escalate the relationship but has been to move to a more stable footing in the relationship,’ she noted. 

But, she added, ‘the president is not going to hold back on conveying his concern.’

She also indicated there would be a US military response if Russia invaded, pointing back to the 2014 Russian invasion of the Crimea.

‘If you look back at 2014, that one of the outcomes here, if they were to decide to move forward is that the other countries in the eastern flank, in many of them NATO partners, will be looking for reassurance from the United States. That’s something that was a follow up to 2014. I’m not sure that is what Russia wants to see. But that would be a natural consequence if they were to move forward as well,’ she said.

Psaki pushed back on questions whether Biden’s diplomatic talk with Putin could be effective in staving off an invasion – an approach that didn’t work in 2014 when Russia took the Crimea.

‘We will see if they are but our objective first and foremost is to prevent the move forward the military progression that we saw happen in 2014,’ she said.

‘It’s not about threats,’ she said of the upcoming call. ‘It’s about conveying the right path forward here is through diplomacy.’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, awards a soldier in a trench as he visits the war-hit Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Monday

This handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies and taken on November 1, 2021 shows the presence of a large ground forces deployment on the northern edge of the town of Yelnya, Smolensk Oblast, Russia

U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and the action has resulted in comparisons being made to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Ahead of Biden and Putin’s conversation, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke with Zelensky.

Biden will call the Ukrainian president in the days following his conversation with Putin, the official said. 

Zelensky said he and Blinken agreed to continue ‘joint and concerted action.’

‘Agreed to continue joint & concerted action. Grateful to U.S. strategic partners & allies for the continued support of our sovereignty & territorial integrity. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,’ Zelensky wrote on twitter. 

The U.S. will also back its NATO allies in the region, the official said. 

Zelensky has pushed to get the Ukraine made a member of the alliance, but that has not happened yet.

The State Department also made it clear the US would counter any Russian aggression to the Ukraine.

‘If Russia chooses to move forward with any plans it may have developed to continue its military aggression or to aggress militarily upon Ukraine to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity we and our allies would be prepared to act we would be prepared to act resolutely,’ said spokesman Ned Price.

‘There should be no ambiguity about our willingness to do this. And we have made that very clear in public and in private at every turn,’ he added. 

The official hinted at a U.S. deployment to Eastern Europe if Russia invades, saying there would be ‘a positive response from the United States for additional forces and capabilities and exercises to take place to ensure the safety and security of our of our eastern flank allies in the face of that kind of aggression in Ukraine.’

‘I think you could anticipate that in the event of an invasion, the need to reinforce the confidence and reassurance of our NATO allies and our eastern flank allies would be real, and the United States would be prepared to provide that kind of reassurance,’ the official said.    

A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘The leaders agreed that recent meetings of the G20 and of Nato foreign ministers had been useful forums for discussions on this issue. They emphasized the need to provide a united front in the face of Russian threats and hostility.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is seen on Thursday. He has long accused the West of provocation with their open invitation for Ukraine to join NATO

‘The leaders called on Russia to de-escalate tensions and reaffirmed their staunch support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

‘The Prime Minister reiterated the points he made to President Putin when they spoke earlier this year in this regard, and which the Foreign Secretary also made to her Russian counterpart last week. The Prime Minister said the UK would continue to use all the economic and diplomatic tools at its disposal to prevent any Russian aggression against Ukraine.

‘The leaders agreed to speak again following President Biden’s conversation with President Putin tomorrow.’

Their diplomacy comes after a report on Friday suggested that Russia is planning a possible military offensive against Ukraine involving an estimated 175,000 troops that could begin as soon as early 2022.

An unclassified intelligence document, obtained by The Washington Post, showed satellite images of troop and equipment build up around the border with Ukraine. 

Photos taken in June around Yelnya, near the northern border between Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, showed empty land. By November 9, five Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) were in place, the photos showed.

In 2014, similar scenes were replicated along the Russian-Ukrainian border near Crimea before Russia seized the strategic port on the Black Sea.

‘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 snap exercise near Ukraine’s borders,’ an administration official told the paper. 

A satellite photo released on November 1 by Maxar Technologies shows troops gathering near the town of Yelnya. Washington’s warning comes as Putin masses his forces close to Ukrainian territory, with satellite images like this taken in the last few weeks showing large camps of tanks and artillery pieces in the region

Ukraine warns there are now some 94,000 Russian soldiers near its border, where it has been fighting a years-long insurgency in its eastern regions by Russian-backed separatists

‘The plans involve extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups with an estimated 175,000 personnel, along with armor, artillery and equipment.’ 

Ukrainian assessments have said Russia has approximately 94,000 troops near the border, but the U.S. believes the figure is closer to 70,000.

However, US officials expect an increase to 175,000, and warn that there will likely be significant movement of battalion tactical groups to and from the border ‘to obfuscate intentions and to create uncertainty.’ 

‘Equipment may be left behind at different training ranges to enable a rapid, final buildup,’ the document adds. 

Leaving the White House for Camp David, 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.’ 

Russian state media on Friday released footage of the military drills, including sniper training, taking place on the Ukrainian border

Russian soldiers have been pictured conducting sniper exercises, believed to involve 700 gunmen, with servicemen lying on the ground in snowy conditions

Russian military personnel were filmed training with rocket-propelled grenade launchers amid heightened tensions over the build up of more than 94,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine

When asked if he accepts Putin’s red line – that Ukraine not join NATO – he said, ‘I won’t accept anybody’s red line.’ 

Putin said this week that Russia needs ‘precise legal, judicial guarantees because our Western colleagues have failed to deliver on verbal commitments they made.’

He said a concrete agreement must ‘rule out any further eastward expansion of NATO and the deployment of weapons systems posing a threat to us in close proximity to Russia’s territory.’ 

On Thursday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

Blinken warned Moscow of the ‘severe costs’ Russia would pay if it invaded Ukraine, urging his Russian counterpart on Thursday to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis.

Anthony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, is seen meeting Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Stockholm on Thursday

Russian troops are seen on October 18 carrying out exercises in Crimea. Crimea, seized from Ukraine by Russia in 2014, is one of the areas where the U.S. officials believe there to be troop build up. In the photo, a BTR-82A armored personnel carrier lands from a large landing ship during an exercise in amphibious landing on an unimproved shore held by army corps and naval infantry units of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at the Opuk range. Over 8,000 servicemen and about 350 items of military hardware and weaponry took part in the drill

Blinken delivered the warning to the Russian Foreign Minister at what he called a ‘candid’ meeting in Stockholm, and said it was likely that Biden and Vladimir Putin would speak soon. 

‘I made very clear our deep concerns and our resolve to hold Russia responsible for its actions, including our commitment to work with European allies to impose severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine,’ Blinken told a news conference after the meeting.

‘It’s now on Russia to de-escalate the current tensions by reversing the recent troop buildup, returning forces to normal peacetime positions and refraining from further intimidation and attempts to destabilize Ukraine.’

Lavrov, speaking to reporters before his talks with Blinken, said Moscow was ready for dialogue with Kiev. 

‘We, as President Putin has stated, do not want any conflicts,’ he said. 

Blinken, before the meeting, stated: ‘We don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. 

‘We do know that he is putting in place the capacity to do so on short order should he so decide. 

‘We must prepare for all contingencies.’ 

The new intelligence finding, published on Friday, estimates that half of the Russian personnel are already deployed along various points near Ukraine’s border, according to a Biden administration official who spoke to Associated Press.

Russian and Belarusian troops take part in the Zapad-2021 military exercise in the Brest region of Belarus on September 14

A Belarus and Russian joint tactical group of Su-30SM fighters patrols the Belarussian borders with NATO countries on November 30

The Novorossiysk (L) and Caesar Kunikov large landing ships take part in an exercise in amphibious landing on an unimproved shore in Crimea in October

The Saratov large landing ship and Mil Mi-8AMTSh helicopters are seen during the Crimea exercises, in October

An air assault group lands during an exercise in amphibious landing in Crimea in October

Russia has picked up its demands on Biden to guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the NATO alliance.

Intelligence officials also have seen an uptick in Russian information operations’ use of proxies and media outlets to denigrate Ukraine and NATO ahead of a potential invasion, the official said.

Earlier on Friday, Biden pledged to make it ‘very, very difficult’ for Putin to take military action in Ukraine.

He said new initiatives coming from his administration are intended to deter Russian aggression.

‘What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be 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 may do,’ Biden told reporters.

The Kremlin said on Friday that Putin would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine during the call with Biden.

The Ukrainian defense minister went even further, warning that Russia could invade his country next month

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers on Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russian-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, warning that a ‘large-scale escalation’ is possible in January. 

A Ukrainian government official told the Post that military exercises earlier this year were seen as a rehearsal for an invasion.

‘The Russian troops worked out the issues of creating strike groups near the borders of our state, mobilization measures, logistical support of groups, [and] transfer of significant military contingents, including by air,’ from Russia to the border with Ukraine, the official said. 

U.S.-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.

In addition to the Ukraine issue, the Biden administration has levied sanctions against Russian targets and called out President Vladimir Putin on Kremlin interference in U.S. elections, cyberactivity against U.S. businesses, and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and then later imprisoned.

President Joe Biden, seen on Friday, is likely to speak soon to Vladimir Putin, the U.S. Secretary of State said on Thursday in Stockholm

Putin and Biden met face to face in Geneva in June, with the U.S. president warning if Russia crossed certain red lines – including going after major American infrastructure – his administration would respond and ‘the consequences of that would be devastating.’

Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have also tentatively agreed to have a call next week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian president.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said administration officials have ‘engaged in the possibility’ of a Biden-Putin call.  

‘It certainly would be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the bellicose rhetoric, about the military buildup that we’re seeing on the border of Ukraine,’ Psaki said of a potential Biden-Putin call.

Biden did not detail what actions he was weighing. 

But Lavrov has threatened new sanctions in response to any U.S. action. 

‘If the new ‘sanctions from hell’ come, we will respond,’ Lavrov said. 

‘We can’t fail to respond.’

Psaki said on Friday that the administration would look to coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. 

She noted that bitter memories of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954, are front of mind as the White House considers the way forward.

‘We know what President Putin has done in the past,’ Psaki said. 

‘We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.’

Deep differences were on display during the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, with the Russia official charging the West was ‘playing with fire’ by denying Russia a say in any further NATO expansion into countries of the former Soviet Union. 

Zelenskyy has pushed for Ukraine to join the alliance, which holds out the promise of membership but has not set a a timeline.

Blinken this week said the U.S. has ‘made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.’

He did not detail what sanctions were being weighed, but one potentially could be to cut off Russia from the SWIFT system of international payments. 

The European Union’s Parliament approved a non-binding resolution in April to cut off Russia from SWIFT if its troops entered Ukraine.

Such a move would go far toward blocking Russian businesses from the global financial system. 

Western allies reportedly considered such a step in 2014 and 2015, during earlier Russian-led escalations of tensions over Ukraine.

Then-Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it would be tantamount to ‘a declaration of war.’

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