US intelligence says Russia has not decided to send more troops to Ukraine

Moscow has used its military build-up as leverage to demand that Nato not expand to other countries in the region

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan gives an update about the talks with Russia at a press briefing at the White House in Washington. AP

US intelligence said it has not determined that Russia has definitively decided to invade Ukraine, leaving open the possibility for de-escalation.

“The intelligence community has not made an assessment that the Russians have definitively decided to take a military course of action in Ukraine,” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House on Thursday.

“As things stand right now, Russia has the opportunity to come to the table as we go forward to deal with the very real concerns that we’ve put on the table.”

Still, Russia has not ruled out an invasion and has used its military build-up of more than 100,000 troops on Ukraine's border as leverage to demand that Nato not expand to other countries in the region — an ultimatum that the US and its allies have firmly rejected.

Mr Sullivan also rebuffed reports that the US is considering a Russian offer to reduce its troop presence in Eastern Europe.

However, he noted that the US is “prepared to discuss reciprocal parameters around the size and scope and frequency of military exercises” in the region.

In addition, he said that Washington is open to discussing “reciprocal limitations on the deployment of missiles as long as Russia is prepared to fulfil its end of the bargain and that there’s adequate verification".

Alternatively, the US has co-ordinated with its European allies on a sanctions package that would levy stiff economic penalties on Russia should it begin a mass military deployment into Ukraine.

“The main focus of the sanctions package that we’ve been working with Europe on have been significant financial sanctions with a start high, stay high mentality, not a graduated application of these sanctions.”

He noted that the penalties would include “export controls that go at certain fundamental strategic industries in Russia and other steps that we would take to ensure that Russia actually had to deal with the economic consequences of this invasion".

US officials have said that Germany had agreed to rescind its agreement with Russia to operationalise the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline should Moscow invade.

US President Joe Biden has so far resisted sanctioning the pipeline at the behest of Germany despite pressure from Republicans in Congress to do so.

Mr Sullivan said that Russia could begin to de-escalate tension by “reducing the number of forces that they have deployed in aggressive postures towards Ukraine".

“There are other steps that Russia could take in respect to de-escalation that go far beyond Ukraine as well,” said Mr Sullivan. “But in terms of the proximate challenge in and around the border of Ukraine, that would be an important step.”

Instead, Russia hinted that it could make military deployments to Cuba and Venezuela during a Thursday meeting on Ukraine at the Organisation for Security Co-operation in Europe.

But Mr Sullivan played down that threat, noting that it did not come up at the Nato summit with Russia in Brussels on Wednesday.

The two sides failed to bridge the impasse at the summit and bilateral talks between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergie Ryabkov in Geneva on Monday likewise produced little progress.

Updated: January 13th 2022, 11:16 PM