The NATO alliance will consult next week on its next move in response to Russia’s “large and unusual” troop buildup near Ukraine’s border, the U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for European affairs said Friday.
“As you can appreciate, all options are on the table, and there’s a toolkit that includes a whole range of options,” Karen Donfried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told reporters in a telephone briefing.
U.S. President Joe Biden said he was concerned about the situation in Ukraine, repeated Washington’s support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and added that he would “in all probability” speak with his Ukrainian and Russian counterparts Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Vladimir Putin.
The comments came ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s trip to Latvia and Sweden next week to attend meetings of NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Donfried said Moscow’s “large and unusual” troop buildup would top the agenda at the NATO summit.
“It’s now for the alliance to decide what are the next moves that NATO wants to take,” Donfried said. “Next week, we will talk about our assessment of what’s happening on Russia’s border with Ukraine, and we will begin that conversation of what are the options that are on the table and what it is that NATO as an alliance would like to do together.”
U.S., NATO and Ukrainian officials have raised alarm in recent weeks about the Russian troop movements, suggesting that Moscow may be poised to attack its neighbor. Russia has rejected the accusations as fearmongering.
Asked if Blinken was going to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov while in Stockholm, Donfried said she had no such announcements to make but added: “Stay tuned.”
On a Friday call, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Ukraine’s head of presidential administration, Andriy Yermak, discussed their concerns about the Russian military activities near Ukraine’s border.
The two discussed Russia’s “harsh rhetoric” toward Ukraine and agreed that all sides should pursue diplomatic efforts to ease tensions, National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement. “Mr. Sullivan underscored the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
The head of Ukraine’s military intelligence told the Military Times outlet this weekend that Russia had more than 92,000 troops massed around Ukraine’s borders and was preparing for an attack by the end of January or beginning of February.
Moscow, saying it was not threatening anyone, has dismissed such suggestions as inflammatory and defended its right to deploy its troops as it wished.
Donfried was asked what the United States saw specifically as different in Russia’s troop buildup this time, but she did not elaborate, aside from saying it was “large and unusual.”
Russia’s intentions remain unclear, and East-West tensions are running high with Ukraine, Russia and NATO all conducting military drills and Moscow accusing Washington of rehearsing a nuclear attack on Russia earlier this month.
When asked if recent escalation had prompted Washington to consider more seriously deploying permanent troops in NATO’s eastern flank, Donfried did not elaborate. But she did say NATO foreign ministers next week would be discussing the wider strategy for the alliance’s posturing in the 21st century.
At the OSCE meeting in Stockholm, Donfried said, Blinken will also raise the issues of Russia’s occupation of Ukrainian and Georgian territories, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and the crisis in Belarus.