As fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine grow, President Biden is expected to speak with global allies on Friday afternoon about bolstering Moscow’s military troops, in a continued effort to deter any hostile advances against his neighbour.
While the US leader said “there is a path” to a diplomatic resolution, Mr Biden also warned that Russian President Vladimir V. Putin could launch an invasion within days.
Washington and Moscow are trading conflicting accounts on whether Russian forces are actually withdrawing from the Ukrainian border, with Russia insisting it has no intention of invading and dismissing US warnings as of “information terrorism”. A heated exchange of artillery fire on Thursday between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces, the most intense in months, has heightened tensions.
The separatists claimed on Thursday they had come under fire from Ukrainians, the kind of combat that Western officials have warned Moscow could try to use to justify military action. The Ukrainian military said the shelling of a kindergarten injured three adult civilians.
The fighting sparked another diplomatic scramble. A White House official said Mr Biden would arrange a phone call with transatlantic leaders in “continuing efforts to pursue deterrence and diplomacy”. It is unclear who will join.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken visited New York on Thursday, where he told the United Nations Security Council that Moscow appeared to be preparing the ground for an attack. Mr Blinken also accepted an offer to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov at the end of next week.
A State Department spokesman, Ned Price, did not give a time or location for the meeting, the diplomats’ second in two months, except to say it would not happen if Russia attacked the ‘Ukraine. “If they invade in the next few days, it will clearly show that they were never serious about diplomacy,” Mr Price said in a statement.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov also made a disturbing assessment on Thursday. “The excessive concentration of Ukrainian forces near the line of contact, as well as possible provocations, can pose a terrible danger,” he said.