US calls on Moscow to de-escalate rising tensions with Ukraine

Banking & Finance

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) – The Joe Biden administration said it has serious concerns over Russia’s threatening military presence on Ukraine’s border and called on “Moscow to de-escalate tensions”.

The United States has “also held discussions with Russian officials about Ukraine and US-Russian relations generally”, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters travelling with President Biden on Monday (Nov 22).

She added that American officials have also had “extensive interactions” with their European allies and partners in recent weeks, including with Ukraine.

“We’ve discussed our concerns about Russian military activities and harsh rhetoric towards Ukraine,” she said.

Ms Psaki’s comments came a day after Bloomberg News reported that the US had shared intelligence, including maps, with European allies that showed a build-up of Russian troops and artillery to prepare for a rapid, large-scale incursion into Ukraine from multiple locations if President Vladimir Putin opted to invade its East European neighbour.

The US intelligence, which has been conveyed to some members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation alliance, presents a scenario in which forces would cross into Ukraine from Crimea, the Russian border and via Belarus, with about 100 battalion tactical groups – potentially around 100,000 soldiers – deployed for what the people described as an operation in rough terrain and freezing weather, covering extensive territory and prepared for a potentially prolonged occupation.

Two people familiar with the matter said about half that number of tactical groups were already in position and that any invasion would be backed up by air support.

Mr Putin last week denied any intention to invade but welcomed the alarm as evidence that his actions had received the attention of the US and its allies, which he accused of failing to take Russia’s red lines over Ukraine seriously enough.

Asked about Russia dismissing these reports about a possible invasion as inflammatory, Ms Psaki on Monday said: “I would just note the long history of Russian propaganda.”

The US and others are not saying that war is certain, or even that they know for sure Mr Putin is serious about one. The people said it is likely he has not yet decided what to do.

The ruble fell about 1 per cent against the US dollar on Monday to the lowest level since August on fears that the tensions could trigger new sanctions.

The latest fears of a possible invasion coincide with the approach of the eighth anniversary of the so-called Maidan Revolution, in which widespread protests by pro-European Ukrainians toppled then President Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Mr Putin. In the wake of that successful rebellion, Mr Putin seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014.