In April, for example. Moscow moved thousands of troops close to the border with Ukraine, alarming Washington and its allies in NATO. Some of these troops would later return to their bases, but there were enough left, along with hundreds of armored vehicles, that Western officials noted.
“This is very different from what we saw in April,” the rep said. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), a member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, Thursday. What we see now “certainly leads to the conclusion that Russia has different intentions this time.”
In particular, new missions to the Crimea and the arrival of the first tank army to Voronezh closer to the border with Ukraine have attracted attention.
A senior Biden administration official said the United States was consulting with allies on the situation, and Vice President Kamala Harris discussed it “in detail” with French President Emmanuel Macron. Foreign Minister Antony Blinken is also in contact with European allies on the matter, the official said.
“There has been a concerted effort in capitals around Europe to convey how concerned we are about the situation,” added a US official in Germany. “Sharing information / intelligence and conversations across a broad spectrum” from the military and diplomats.
An EU diplomat said US officials had discussions with their embassy in Washington and “we share the same concerns” over the Russian construction along its Ukrainian border, which includes artillery, tanks, new infantry units and other armored units that are usually based elsewhere in the country.
“The EU is following the situation very closely,” EU spokesman Peter Stano said in a statement. “The information we have gathered so far is quite worrying,” and the alliance has “explored ways to improve Ukraine’s resilience in the event of further escalation,” he added.
Russian units that have recently arrived along the border have taken to repositioning themselves in the shelter of the night, a change from previous troop build-up as Moscow made large, public exhibitions of moving armor and troops on railways and highways during the day.
During a visit to Washington this week, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told ABC News that with new Russian troops in place along the border, “it will not take Russia much time to resort to an offensive action if it decides to do so.”
Twice this week, nuclear-capable Russian bombers flew over Belarus near Poland, a move Russian officials said was in response to a military build-up in Poland near the Belarusian border.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to the United States, dismissed the concerns Russian state-controlled media, saying “the movements of our armed forces on our soil should not worry anyone. Russia poses no threat to anyone.”
Peskov also alluded to what he claimed were “active and assertive actions” by NATO forces near Russian borders. “If necessary, we will take measures to ensure our security if there are provocative actions by our opponents near our borders,” he said, according to Russian reports.
Meanwhile, the top US national security official broke down the situation as follows: “Putin is putting the capabilities in place for a very rapid military intervention in either Belarus or Ukraine. Meanwhile in the Donbas [region of Ukraine]”Combined Russian-separatist forces are firing on Ukrainian forces every day, with no sign of any reduction.”
The official said that it was unlikely that Putin would stage a military intervention in Belarus, but that the Russian leader would probably want equipment in place if he decided it was needed.
The United States has provided more than $ 2.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in 2014, including Javelin anti-tank missiles. The Senate’s version of the 2022 defense budget increases Ukraine’s security assistance initiative from $ 250 million to $ 300 million a year, including $ 75 million specifically for lethal assistance. Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), A member of the House Armed Services Committee, told POLITICO that the United States should “help Ukraine have the weapons and the training it needs to deter Russia. Our position should have zero ambiguity.”
The move comes as Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko increasingly quarrels with his European neighbors in a face-off that has continued since the Belarusian election last year, which much of the international community considered fraudulent.
Faced with growing sanctions against his regime, Lukashenko has responded by opening routes for migrants from the Middle East and on to neighboring countries such as Poland. Thousands of these migrants are now stuck along the borders in what appears to be a growing humanitarian crisis.
In recent days, Poland has sent about 15,000 troops to strengthen border security, a situation Moscow is using to justify its bombers over Belarus.
Lukashenko has also threatened to cut off gas supplies to Europe as the winter months approach. But shutting down energy supplies is likely to require approval from Putin, whose country is the source of much of the gas reaching Europe via Belarusian soil.
The Russian leader will no doubt keep an eye on the stand-off.
“The Kremlin’s modus operandi is to expand its capabilities,” the senior U.S. national security official said, adding that “Moscow knows the Lukashenko regime is very unstable.”
One possibility, according to Russian observers, is that Putin sees the Belarusian conflict with his neighbors as a useful distraction if he wants to stage another move into Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia since the Kremlin invaded it in 2014.
However, the top US national security official admitted: “Anyone who tells you they know what Putin will do next will fool you. No one really knows.”
Erin Banco and Alexander Ward contributed to this report.