US President Joe Biden on Friday said he is compiling a “comprehensive” set of initiatives aimed at making it hard for Russian President Vladimir Putin to move against Ukraine as fears rise that Moscow is planning to invade the country.
Mr Biden said he had been in constant contact with allies in Europe as well as with Ukraine. He has not yet spoken to Mr Putin on the matter, but a call between the two leaders is expected within days.
“What I am doing is putting together what I believe 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,” Mr Biden said at the White House.
“That's in play right now.”
Tension between Russia and the West has escalated in recent weeks, with Ukraine, the US and other western allies increasingly concerned that a Russian troop build-up near the Ukrainian border could signal Moscow’s intention to invade.
The US has threatened the Kremlin with its toughest sanctions yet if it launches an attack, while Russia has said that any presence of Nato troops and weapons on Ukrainian soil would cross a “red line".
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov on Friday said the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russian-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300 and that a “large-scale escalation” is possible in January.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, said Mr Putin will seek binding guarantees precluding Nato’s expansion into Ukraine during a planned call with Mr Biden.
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Stockholm to demand that Russia pull back its troops from the Ukrainian border.
Mr Lavrov retorted that the West was “playing with fire” by denying Russia a say in any further Nato expansion into countries of the former Soviet Union.
Ukraine has pushed to join the alliance, which holds out the promise of membership but has not set up a time frame.
Mr Blinken told Euronews on Thursday that he wanted Mr Lavrov to understand "the consequences that would result if our concerns are realised by Russian aggression, but also our conviction that the best path forward is diplomacy, is for Russia to de-escalate, to pull back its forces, and to engage meaningfully in implementing the Minsk agreements."
The Minsk accords were brokered in 2015 and offered a framework for resolving the conflict.