Biden anticipates 'long discussion' with Putin over Ukraine invasion threat

A Ukrainian serviceman rests in a trench on a front line in the Donetsk region, not far from pro-Russian militants.. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - President Joe Biden said he anticipated a "long discussion" with Vladimir Putin over the threat of an invasion of Ukraine, and dismissed the Russian leader's warning that deployment of Western weapons or troops represented a "red line".

"We've been aware of Russia's actions for a long time and my expectation is we're going to have a long discussion with Putin," Biden told reporters as he departed the White House for Camp David on Friday (Dec 3) night.

Asked about Putin's warning that stationing missile defence systems or other countermeasures in Ukraine would represent a red line for the Kremlin, Biden said he "respects no one's red lines".

His comments capped a day in which White House officials said they were considering economic sanctions and security assistance to Ukraine in response to a Russian troop buildup across the border that has prompted fears of a possible invasion.

Earlier Friday, Biden said he was coordinating with allies in Europe to make it "very, very difficult" for Putin to consider such an attack.

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"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.

A senior Biden administration official said US intelligence had concluded that the Kremlin was planning an offensive against Ukraine as soon as next year involving an estimated 175,000 personnel.

The US believes roughly half those units are already at the border and that Russian proxies and media outlets have increased the distribution of content denigrating Ukraine, according to the official who requested anonymity to detail an internal intelligence assessment.

Russian and US officials have said they expect a call or video call between their leaders, perhaps in the next several days.

Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy aide, told reporters Friday that the session would come after the Russian leader's planned trip to India Monday.

"The upcoming contact between the two presidents, which the Kremlin announced, will facilitate the stabilisation of relations, a calming of the situation, which has become excessively heated in Europe and the rest of the world," Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the US, said Friday, according to the official Tass news agency.

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Putin's deployment of as many as 100,000 troops and military equipment on Ukraine's border has revived fears of war first raised in the spring, when the Russian leader made similar moves.

While those tensions subsided following an April call between Biden and Putin, US officials have recently shared intelligence with allies showing that Putin could order a rapid, large-scale incursion into Ukraine from multiple locations.

On the sidelines of a meeting in Stockholm this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov of "serious consequences" if Moscow makes a move on Ukraine, where forces backed by Russia have waged a low-intensity conflict since after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Blinken said at a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) conference in Latvia that the US would impose "high-impact economic measures that we've refrained from using in the past" if Russia invaded its neighbour.

Russia has denied any plans to attack Ukraine and says it has the right to deploy troops within its own borders without interference from abroad.

But Russian officials have also said they want security guarantees that Nato won't expand further eastward and won't deploy offensive weapons on Ukraine's behalf.

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