The White House says President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s president on Thursday there is a “distinct possibility” Russia could take military action against Ukraine in February.
The Kremlin sounded a similarly grim note, saying it saw “little ground for optimism” in resolving the crisis after the US this week again rejected Russia’s main demands.
Russian officials said dialogue was still possible to end the crisis, but President Biden again offered a stark warning amid growing concerns that Russian President Vladimir Putin will give the go-ahead for a further invasion of Ukrainian territory in the not-so-distant future.
The White House said President Biden’s comments to Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call amplified concerns that administration officials have been making for some time.
“President Biden said that there is a distinct possibility that the Russians could invade Ukraine in February,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said.
“He has said this publicly and we have been warning about this for months. ”
Tensions have soared in recent weeks, as the US and its NATO allies expressed concern a build-up of about 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine signalled Moscow planned to invade its ex-Soviet neighbour.
Had a long phone conversation with @POTUS. Discussed recent diplomatic efforts on de-escalation and agreed on joint actions for the future. Thanked President @JoeBiden for the ongoing military assistance. Possibilities for financial support to Ukraine were also discussed. pic.twitter.com/pAsQLYAuig— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 27, 2022
Russia denies having any such designs and has laid out a series of demands it says will improve security in Europe.
President Biden warned Mr Zelenskyy that the US believed there was a high degree of likelihood Russia could invade when the ground freezes and Russian forces could attack Ukrainian territory from north of Kyiv, according to two people familiar with the conversation who were not authorised to comment publicly.
Mr Zelenskyy tweeted that he and President Biden also discussed the possibility of additional financial support for Ukraine.
The White House said President Biden told Mr Zelenskyy he was “exploring additional macroeconomic support to help Ukraine’s economy” as it comes under pressure as a result of Russia’s military build-up.