Ukraine Says 'Worst' Scenario is Russia Invades Next Month, Kremlin Denies Plans to Attack

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia continue to increase, with the Ukrainian defense minister warning Russia could invade in January and Russian officials denying any plans of an attack, according to the Associated Press.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov expressed concern Friday over a buildup of troops near the two countries' borders. As the AP reported, Reznikov told lawmakers the number of troops at the border is estimated to be 94,300.

"Our intelligence service analyzes all scenarios, including the worst ones," Reznikov said. "The most probable time when (Russia) will be ready for the escalation is end of January."

He said this escalation "is a probable scenario, but not certain, and our task is to avert it."

Russian officials deny that there are any plans for an "escalation," as Konstantin Kosachev, a member of the Federation Council of Russia, told state TV channel Russia-24.

"We don't have any plans to attack Ukraine," Kosachev said. "We don't have any heightened military activity near Ukraine's borders. There is no preparation underway for an offensive."

However, Russia has fought against the West's consideration of expanding NATO into Ukraine, saying doing so would be crossing a "red line."

President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone in the coming days. Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters that during the call, Putin will demand that NATO not expand any further east.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Ukraine, Oleksii Reznikov
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Oleksii Reznikov warned a Russian attack could come in January, though Russian officials denied any plans of attack. Above, Reznikov speaks during a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary at the pentagon in Washington, DC, on November 18. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. has threatened the Kremlin with the toughest sanctions yet if it launches an attack, while Russia has warned that any presence of NATO troops and weapons on Ukrainian soil would cross a "red line."

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met face-to-face with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Stockholm to demand that Russia pull back troops from the border with Ukraine. Lavrov retorted that the West was "playing with fire" by denying Russia a say in any further NATO expansion into countries of the former Soviet Union.

Ukraine has pushed to join the alliance, which holds out the promise of membership but hasn't set a timeline.

Ushakov noted that during the call with Biden Putin will raise his demand for a document that would exclude any NATO moves further east. Russia wants a legally-binding agreement that would "exclude any further NATO's expansion eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that would threaten us on the territories of neighboring countries, including Ukraine," he said.

The Kremlin aide said that Russia long has pushed for such arrangements, emphasizing that they have become particularly acute amid the latest buildup of tension, adding that "it simply can't continue like that."

He charged that in the early 1990s the Soviet and Russian leadership received verbal assurances from Western leaders that NATO wouldn't expand eastward, but the West reneged on those promises in the following years that saw former Soviet bloc countries and ex-Soviet republics join the alliance.

Russia and Ukraine have remained locked in a tense tug-of-war after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting.

The Kremlin has voiced concern that Ukraine may use force to reclaim control of the rebel east. And adding to the tensions, the head of a Russian-backed, self-proclaimed separatist republic in eastern Ukraine said Thursday that he could turn to Moscow for military assistance if the region faced a Ukrainian attack.

Reznikov said Ukraine wouldn't do anything to provoke Russia but is prepared to respond in case of an attack. "Ukraine is most interested in political and diplomatic resolution," the defense minister said.

Vladimir Putin, Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin will attempt to prevent NATO from expanding eastward to Ukraine in an upcoming phone call with U.S. President Joe Biden. Above, Putin chairs a meeting on the situation of coal mining enterprises in Kuzbass, via videoconference in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, December 2. Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP