US officials have warned that Russia has continued to ramp up its military activity around the Ukrainian border, despite a flurry of diplomatic efforts to defuse the crisis including a high-profile visit to Moscow this week by French president Emmanuel Macron.
The White House and the Pentagon on Wednesday said Russia was increasing its military presence near Ukraine, even though Macron earlier this week said Russian president Vladimir Putin had assured him there would be no “deterioration or escalation” in the stand-off.
“We have continued to see even over the last 24 hours additional capabilities flow from elsewhere in Russia to that border with Ukraine and Belarus,” John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesperson, said.
“The numbers continue to grow. We maintain that he’s north of 100,000 [troops] for sure. And he continues to add to that capability. We also see indications that additional battalion tactical groups are on their way. And so every day he adds to his options,” Kirby added.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said: “What we’re looking at here [is] whether or not Russia is taking de escalatory steps. They are not. They are taking escalatory, not de-escalatory steps. We certainly hope that changes.”
After his visit to Moscow on Monday, Macron said he had fulfilled his aim of “arranging things to prevent an escalation and open up new avenues” for diplomacy. The French president then travelled to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Also on Monday, Biden met Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, in a bid to portray unity between Washington and Berlin and warn Moscow that it will face severe economic sanctions if it goes ahead with an invasion of Ukraine.
US and European Nato members remain adamant that a diplomatic solution to the stand-off over Ukraine is still their preferred option and that the path to an agreement with Moscow remains open.
But there are concerns in Washington and in some European capitals that a combination of the threat of sanctions, troop deployments to eastern European allies, aid to Ukraine, and diplomatic exchanges with Russia have so far failed to yield concrete results.
Biden and Macron spoke again on Wednesday about Macron’s meetings in Russia and Ukraine this week. They discussed “ongoing diplomatic and deterrence efforts”, according to a White House account of their conversation.
During the Pentagon briefing, Kirby confirmed a report in the Wall Street Journal that some of the 1,700 US troops deployed to Poland recently could be used to help evacuate US citizens that might try to cross the Ukrainian border following a Russian invasion.
Kirby urged US citizens in Ukraine to pay “close attention” to the warnings from the US government that they should be leaving the country now in the face of the Russian threat.