New US intelligence findings estimate Russia could begin a military offensive in Ukraine in a matter of months as it amasses up to 175,000 troops along the border, a startling escalation that President Joe Biden has warned could lead to severe consequences.
The latest developments come after months of steady increases along the Russia-Ukraine frontier that have alarmed US and Western officials and led to tense conversations between American diplomats and their counterparts.
CNN reported Friday that Russian forces have capabilities in place along the Ukraine border to carry out a swift and immediate invasion, including erecting supply lines such as medical units and fuel that could sustain a drawn-out conflict, should Moscow choose to invade.
Officials said the current levels of equipment stationed in the area could supply front-line forces for seven to 10 days and other support units for as long as a month.
The intelligence findings, first reported by the Washington Post and described by an administration official, say Russia could begin the offensive “as soon as early 2022” with 100 battalion tactical groups, which is twice the scale of forces Russia built up in the region last spring.
Half those units are currently near Ukraine’s border, the intelligence finds. The official said the determination was based on images over the last month.
US Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said Saturday that “somewhere around 95,000 to 100,000 Russian soldiers” were on the border of Ukraine.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do. But I am very, very concerned about their posture, and it’s in the news,” McConville said, while speaking on a panel at the Reagan National Defense Forum. “That gives a lot of options to the Russians, and I’m not quite sure what they’re going to do. But to me, that is a terrible … It’s going to have a terrible impact on the stability and security of our European friends, and so I have serious concerns about that.”
McConville’s statement is thought to be the first on-the-record acknowledgment of reports of the troop levels by the US military.
The build-up has led to a planned “secure video call” on Tuesday between Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement Saturday.
“The leaders will discuss a range of topics in the U.S.-Russia relationship, including strategic stability, cyber, and regional issues,” Psaki said. “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.”
Asked as he departed the White House on Friday evening about the intelligence findings, Biden voiced deep concerns.
“We’ve been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time,” he said as he left for Camp David. “My expectation is we’re going to have a long discussion with Putin.”