The Biden administration declined to rule out sending US forces to Ukraine Monday as new satellite imagery showed Russian forces gathering at several key strategic points along the Ukrainian border in preparation for a possible invasion.
The photos, collected by Maxar Technologies and provided to Fox News, show troop buildup and the deployment of ground forces equipment in western Russia and Crimea.
Hours after the images were released, ABC News’ Cecelia Vega asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki: “Should Americans be prepared for the likelihood to see American forces on the ground in the region in the event that Russia does invade?”
“I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s conversations with our transatlantic partners, which is going to happen later this afternoon,” Psaki responded, “and we’ll provide you a list of who will be participating in that call as soon as the scheduling details are finalized.
“But I would say that our objective here, Cecilia, is conveying diplomatically that this is the moment for Russia to pull back their military buildup at the border,” Psaki added.
At the Pentagon later Monday, press secretary John Kirby also declined to rule out dispatching US forces to Eastern Europe.
“I’m not going to get ahead of decisions one way or another that the administration may or may not make here,” said Kirby. “As you know, President Biden will be calling and talking to President Putin tomorrow. I think we need to let that conversation happen.”
Kirby did note that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was being kept “keenly and closely informed … about what we continue to see, and what we continue to see is added capability that President Putin continues to add — added military capability in the western part of his country and around Ukraine.”
The Pentagon press secretary added that US military advisers had previously been sent to Ukraine on a “rotational” basis, but declined to say how many were in the country as of Monday.
Psaki said Saturday in announcing the call between Biden and Putin that the two leaders would discuss “U.S. concerns with Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”
On Friday, Biden told reporters he was “putting together what I believe to be, 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.”
As he left the White House for Camp David Friday evening, the president said the US had “been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time, and my expectation is we’re gonna have a long discussion with Putin.”
The length of the meeting has not been announced. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov reportedly told Russian state media “the presidents will decide themselves” how long it will last.
Russia has been dispatching troops to the Ukrainian border region for several months, leading many observers to fear an imminent invasion. The Washington Post, citing an intelligence document and US officials, reported that such an offensive could take place as soon as early next year and involve up to 175,000 troops.
The Kremlin has denied that it is preparing to invade, but multiple top US officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, see it as a strong possibility.
“We don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade. We do know that he is putting in place the capacity to do so in short order should he so decide,” Blinken said last week.
“Should Russia follow the path of confrontation, when it comes to Ukraine, we’ve made clear that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we have refrained from pursuing in the past,” he added.
On Monday, Peskov acknowledged that the tensions along the Russia-Ukraine border will be the primary focus of the Biden-Putin call and described relations between the US and Russia as “lamentable.”
“They will need to discuss how the understandings they reached in Geneva are being implemented, to review what is being fully implemented, and what needs extra work,” Peskov told reporters, according to Reuters.
“Of course it (the agenda) is bilateral relations, which remain in quite a lamentable state. And then it’s the questions that loom large on the agenda. Primarily tension around Ukraine, the theme of NATO advancement towards our borders, and President Putin’s initiative about security guarantees.” the Kremlin spokesperson added.
Late last month, Putin threatened to retaliate against the US and NATO if they cross a “red line” by deploying missiles in Ukraine. A day later, he explained that he wants “strong, reliable and long-term guarantees of [Russia’s] security,” which Putin defined in part as ruling out Ukrainian membership in the Atlantic alliance.