US Intelligence Says Russia Planning for a Ukraine Invasion With 100 Battalions, Artillery

Russian forces are beginning a buildup along the Ukraine border that hints at a pending invasion plan, the Associated Press reported.

Tensions have increased for weeks during Russia's denial of plans to take military action against its diminutive neighbor to the west. However, a U.S. intelligence official speaking to AP on the condition of anonymity said officials have determined Russian planning for a possible offensive not long into 2022 is underway.

The official said 100 battalion tactical groups, armor, artillery and equipment are part of Russia's plan. Intelligence also estimates half of the proposed Russian personnel – which could reach 175,000 in total – are already spread across various spots near the Ukraine border. The looming threat comes against a backdrop of Russia demanding President Joe Biden not allow Ukraine to join the NATO alliance.

Biden said Friday he would make it "very, very difficult" for Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine. He suggested new tactics from the administration will dissuade 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 intelligence official also pointed to a recent increase in Russian propaganda specific to Ukraine and NATO as another warning sign, the AP reported.

The intelligence findings were first reported by The Washington Post.

Biden and Putin may meet next week. A call would reportedly precede the possible in-person discussion between the two country's leaders.

"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," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said of a potential Biden-Putin call.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Biden, Ukraine, Putin
New intelligence shows an increasing Russian threat along the Ukraine border. Above, President Joe Biden listens to a reporter's question after delivering remarks on the November jobs report in the State Dining Room of the White House on Dec. 3, 2021. Evan Vucci/AP Photo

The Kremlin said Friday that Putin would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO's expansion to Ukraine during the call with Biden, while the Ukrainian defense minister warned that Russia could invade his country next month.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers 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.

Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters Friday that arrangements have been made for a Putin-Biden call in the coming days, adding that the date will be announced after Moscow and Washington finalize details. The Russians say a date has been agreed upon, but declined to say when.

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 who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Psaki said administration officials have "engaged in the possibility" of a Biden-Putin call. White House officials did not respond to a request for comment on the expected Zelenskyy call.

Biden did not detail what actions he was weighing. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met Thursday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Sweden, said the U.S. has threatened new sanctions. He did not detail the potential sanctions but suggested the effort would not be effective.

"If the new 'sanctions from hell' come, we will respond," Lavrov said. "We can't fail to respond."

Psaki said 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 Russian 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 hasn't 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."

Biden, Ukraine, Putin
The Kremlin said Friday that Russia's President Vladimir Putin would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO's expansion to Ukraine during a coming call with President Joe Biden. Above, Putin attends a meeting of the Supreme State Council of the Union State of Russia and Belarus on Unity Day, in Sevastopol, Crimea, on November 4, 2021. Mikhail Metzel/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images