U.S. intelligence officials are warning European allies of a potential Russian military incursion into Ukraine, with the likelihood of one increasing as the weather gets colder. An incursion is weather-dependent, but could happen in a matter of weeks, barring intervention from the West, U.S. officials briefed on the matter told CBS News.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops have amassed at the Ukraine border -- months after thousands of troops. But unlike last spring's buildup, which was regarded as a show of force, U.S. intelligence officials are warning that this one could be in preparation for an actual incursion into the Donbass region of Eastern Ukraine.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday the alliance was closely monitoring a "large and unusual concentration of Russian forces" near Ukraine's border.
"It is urgent that Russia shows transparency about this military build-up, de-escalates and reduces tensions," Stoltenberg said following a meeting with outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Both American and British intelligence has been shared with European stakeholders.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley spoke with General Valery Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, on Friday. They discussed the security situation in Eastern Europe including Russia's "concerning activity in the area," Joint Staff Spokesperson Col. Dave Butler said in a media release.
"The Chairman stressed the need for continued consultation amongst regional allies and partners, and reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," it said.
The release noted Ukraine is a key NATO partner with a critical role in maintaining stability in Europe.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a joint press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba that the U.S. does not "have clarity into Moscow's intentions, but we do know its playbook."
"[O]ur concern is that Russia may make the serious mistake of attempting to rehash what it undertook back in 2014 when it amassed forces along the border, crossed into sovereign Ukrainian territory, and did so claiming falsely that it was provoked," Blinken said.
On Saturday, he said the U.S. has "real concerns" about Russia's activities at the Ukrainian border.
The U.S. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines met with top NATO leadership and Polish government officials while she was overseas this week. She briefed NATO ambassadors about U.S. intelligence and a possible Russian intervention in Ukraine, The New York Times reports.
Haines' meetings followed a series of engagements in Moscow by a U.S. delegation led by CIA Director Bill Burns, whoat President Biden's request earlier this month to warn Russia against taking action in Ukraine. Some of Burns' meetings were highly charged and contentious, which was not unexpected, according to officials familiar with them.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez from New Jersey, introduced an amendment to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act late Thursday night that would trigger possible sanctions and visa bans against top Russian officials should Russia invade Ukraine. Other targets of the sanctions would include the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a Kremlin-backed pipeline that would bypass Ukraine and deliver Russian gas directly to Europe. The sanctions could also hit major financial institutions, sovereign debt transactions and more.
The amendment calls on President Biden to make a determination that the hostilities — defined as "escalatory military or other offensive operations" — warrant sanctions.
U.S. concerns about a possible incursion into Ukraine come amid a crisis nearby, at the Poland-Belarus border. Officials have not yet determined whether there is any connection between Russia and the situation at that border, where thousands of desperate migrants funneled into Belarus from Iraq, Syria and Yemen had gathered in frigid conditions trying to get into Poland -- EU soil.
On Friday, in a considerable de-escalation of tensions, Belarusian authorities cleared the camps where migrants had lived for weeks. But Polish officials said migrants had instead been shuttled elsewhere, in smaller groups, at multiple other border crossings.
"We have to prepare for the fact that this problem will continue for months. I have no doubt that that will be the case," Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said in a radio interview on Saturday.
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