There has been no change in the Russian buildup of troops along its border with Ukraine since U.S. President Joe Biden’s much-hyped video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Ukrainian security official said Wednesday.
According to Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defence Council, there are still 92,000 Russian troops at the border, but there’s no indication that Russia has imminent plans to invade.
Danilov told Reuters in an interview that the Ukrainian government is still concerned about the military build-up and that there has been no big change since the Dec. 7 meeting between the U.S. and Russia, when Biden threatened severe retaliatory economic sanctions should Putin choose to start a war.
“Nothing has changed,” Danilov said. “There has been some [increase in troop numbers] but not critical enough for us to say: this is it, it [an invasion] is going to happen now.”
He estimated that Russia would need at least 500,000-600,000 soldiers at the border “in order to keep the situation under control in the event of an offensive.”
Danilov also said that Russia could deploy additional troops very quickly at any time, but would need more than 24 hours to bring those troops to the border to mount an invasion.
In the event of war, Ukraine hopes that its Western allies, including the United States, will keep it supplied with weapons, he said.
The world is watching Russia, which for months now has built up troops on its border with Ukraine in what the country says are “military exercises.” News reports have shown Russian personnel and equipment including tanks, artillery, and armored troop carriers deployed to the Pogonovo training area and Yelnya in Russia and Novoozernoye in Crimea.
A U.S. intelligence report from earlier this month claimed that Moscow is planning a multi-front offensive against Ukraine that could begin as early as next year and involve as many as 175,000 soldiers.
Russia previously annexed the Crimea region from Ukraine in 2014, though Moscow now denies having any intention of invading or seizing more territory, accusing the U.S. and Ukraine of engaging in destabilizing behavior.
Putin has demanded that the U.S. guarantee that Ukraine will not be admitted to the NATO military alliance. He has also called on the U.S. and other Western countries to cease military activity near Russia’s border. European Union leaders in turn have threatened more economic sanctions against Russia if it attempts military expansion into Ukraine.
The eastern region of Ukraine is mired in civil war, where pro-Russian separatists supported by Moscow are fighting the pro-western Ukrainian government. Danilov said the government has no intention of escalating the conflict by sending more troops to retake control of the region.
Danilov also said Ukraine must be a party to any discussion of its membership in NATO.
“We will not take orders from anyone, we will not tolerate any tsar, we are a different kind of people,” he said.
“Is compromise possible? Yes, it is possible, but not at the expense of our independence and our country.”
Following their Dec. 7 video conference, Biden and Putin have agreed to hold more talks to discuss tensions with Ukraine and other issues. The Kremlin said there continue to be very serious differences between Russia and the United States over Moscow’s “red lines” which it says the West must not cross.
Putin expressed interest in meeting with Biden in person, though the Russian government has not said when such a meeting could take place, Reuters reports.