High-stakes diplomacy continued on Friday in a bid to avert a war in Eastern Europe. The urgent efforts come as 100,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s border and the Biden administration worries that Russian President Vladimir Putin will mount some sort of invasion within weeks.
Here are things to know about the international tensions surrounding Ukraine.
PENTAGON LAYS OUT MILITARY OPTIONS
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Friday the buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine’s border has reached the point where President Vladimir Putin now has a complete range of military options, including actions short of a full-scale invasion.
“While we don’t believe that President Putin has made a final decision to use these forces against Ukraine, he clearly now has the capability,” Austin told a Pentagon news conference.
Austin said Putin could use any portion of his force of an estimated 100,000 troops to seize Ukrainian cities and “significant territories” or to carry out “coercive acts or provocative political acts” like the recognition of breakaway territories inside Ukraine.
Austin spoke alongside Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a news conference that marked a subtle shift in the administration’s approach to public communications about the Ukraine crisis, which until now has focused on the the diplomatic efforts.
Milley said Russian forces near Ukraine include not only ground troops and naval and air forces but also cyber and electronic warfare capabilities, as well as special operations forces. But he also noted that Ukraine’s military has improved significantly over the past several years, adding, “If Russia chooses to invade Ukraine, it will not be cost free, in terms of casualties and other significant effects,” Milley said.
A DIPLOMATIC DEADLOCK
The Kremlin said Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron that the West has failed to consider Russia’s key conditions of halting further NATO expansion, stopping the deployment of alliance weapons near Russian borders, and rolling back its forces from Eastern Europe.
Putin told Macron that Moscow will study the U.S. and NATO response before deciding its next move, according to a Kremlin account of their call.
A French official said Macron and Putin talked for over an hour Friday and spoke “about the necessity of de-escalation.”
The official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said that in the call Putin expressed commitment to the yearslong series of talks between Ukraine and Russia, with a new meeting expected in Berlin in two weeks. But he made no concessions.
Putin has made no public remarks about the Western written response to the Russian demands, but Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said it leaves little chance for reaching agreement.
He said Moscow will not start a war but also won’t allow the West to trample on its security interests. He noted, however, that the U.S. has suggested the two sides could talk about other issues of importance. Those include limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft.