Russia secretly added 7,000 troops near Ukraine’s border despite President Vladimir Putin claiming this week that he would be drawing back forces, a US official alleged Wednesday night as Vice President Kamala Harris prepared for a trip to Europe to discourage an invasion.
“Yesterday the Russian government said it was withdrawing troops from the border with Ukraine. They received a lot of attention for that claim, both here and around the world. But we now know it was false,” the official said on a press call about Harris’ trip.
“In fact, we have now confirmed that in the last several days, Russia has increased its troop presence along Ukrainian border by as many as 7,000 troops with some arriving as recently as today.
“Every indication we have now is they mean only to publicly offer to talk and make claims about de-escalation while privately mobilizing for war.”
President Biden said Tuesday that 150,000 Russian troops were near Ukraine — as Putin claimed he would “partially pull back troops.” A Putin spokesman said US concerns about an invasion were “ostentatious hysteria” and that the troop buildup was for military exercises.
Harris is attending the Munich Security Conference, which begins Friday, to show US support for NATO allies and for Ukraine, which is not formally an American ally.
“She is not going with any deliverables per se, because the key thing, the key objective for her trip now is to focus on this fast-changing, evolving situation,” a second US official said.
Harris will “make sure that we are fully aligned with our allies and partners and to make sure that we have sent a very clear message to Russia, which we have and will continue to do which is that there are two paths, our preferences, diplomacy and deterrence. but if Russia chooses aggression, we are ready,” the official said.
Harris will meet Friday with the leaders of NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania before delivering a speech about the Ukraine crisis Saturday at the conference. She also will meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The US government claims Russia may stage a “false flag” attack on its own forces to provide a justification for war.
This crisis is premised on Putin’s demand that NATO rule out accepting Ukraine as a member, but the Cold War-era military alliance has declined to do so.
Biden last week threatened to penalize Russia by blocking operation of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, which is poised to begin piping fuel directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea rather than through Ukraine.
“If Russia invades — that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine, again — then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2,” Biden said at a joint press conference with Scholz.
Scholz appeared notably less enthused about the threat — saying “we are absolutely united” but pointedly refusing to say the words Nord Stream 2.
Biden said Thursday in a TV interview that he won’t send US troops into Ukraine to evacuate Americans if Russia invades because doing so could trigger a “world war” and “things could go crazy quickly.”
Biden has threatened “severe” sanctions against Russia, but he horrified Ukrainian officials last month when he said that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine might result in less-severe penalties — with one Ukrainian official saying that the remark could give Putin a “green light” to invade.
When Biden was vice president in 2014, Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula and then annexed the territory from Ukraine following a disputed referendum. Putin’s government also allegedly supports a pair of pro-Russia breakaway states in eastern Ukraine.
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