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 Moscow was increasing its military presence near Ukraine, although Macron said earlier this week that 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, 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, 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 goal of “arranging things to prevent escalation and open up new avenues” for diplomacy. The French president then traveled to Kyiv to meet Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky.
Biden met Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, on Monday in a bid to portray unity between Washington and Berlin and warn Moscow that it would face severe economic sanctions if it went ahead with an invasion of Ukraine.
US and European NATO members remained adamant that a diplomatic solution to the stand-off was still their preferred option and that the path to an agreement with Moscow was still 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 failed to yield concrete results.
Biden and Macron spoke on Wednesday about the French president’s meetings in Russia and Ukraine. 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 could recently be used to help evacuate US citizens who might try to cross the Ukrainian border following a Russian invasion.
Kirby urged Americans in Ukraine to pay “close attention” to the warnings from the US government that they should be leaving the country in the face of the Russian threat.