WASHINGTON — Senior U.S. officials said Monday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine remains imminent amid continued troop movements, propaganda and belligerent language from Moscow, suggesting the outlook is bleak for a summit between the president Biden and President Vladimir V. Putin in the coming days.
Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, said on NBC’s “Today Show” that the president is ready to “go the extra mile when it comes to diplomacy,” but added that “all indications we what we see on the ground right now in terms of the disposition of Russian forces is that they are actually preparing for a major attack on Ukraine.
Mr. Putin raised tensions further on Monday morning during a meeting of his Security Council, announcing that he would decide by the end of the day whether to recognize two separatist Ukrainian regions as independent states. At the same time, Russian media have aired allegations of aggression by Ukrainian forces, accusations that Ukrainian military leaders have forcefully denied.
US officials have repeatedly predicted that the Russian military will stage fake attacks on their own forces to provide Mr Putin with a pretext to go to war.
Mr Biden accepted “in principle” on Sunday a proposal by French President Emmanuel Macron for a summit with Mr Putin. But many White House officials said any such meeting in the coming days was “fictitious” at best and would not take place if Russian forces crossed the Ukrainian border.
Two senior administration officials said Monday that there was no change in that thinking overnight and there was no discussion about the format, time or place of a such meeting.
Sergei V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, also played down the immediate prospects for a summit, saying on Monday that “before we meet, especially in such a stormy atmosphere, it is important to understand how these summits and meetings will end”.
For Mr. Biden, the idea of a summit could show his willingness to embrace diplomacy rather than war. But a high-profile meeting with Mr Putin is fraught with risk, especially if Russia then proceeds with an invasion. And there is little Mr Biden could offer Mr Putin without appearing to abandon Ukraine or NATO allies in the process – which the US has stressed it does. wouldn’t do.
Summit meetings are usually highly choreographed events, the outcomes of which are negotiated in advance. So at best, no meeting between the presidents could take place until Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Mr. Lavrov lay the groundwork in a meeting between them scheduled for Thursday — if Russia doesn’t start a invasion before that date.
Senior Western officials said on Monday that Russian forces surrounding Ukraine were moving rapidly to positions where they would be ready to attack once ordered to do so. The number of Russian troops surrounding Ukraine also continues to grow, they said, with some 110 battalion tactical groups of about 1,000 troops each.
About two-thirds of those groups are within 50 kilometers or 31 miles of the Ukrainian border, and about half of them have been deployed tactically, out of assembly areas, ready to attack, officials said.