Russian President Vladimir Putin said he will decide whether to recognize Ukrainian separatist regions as independent after accusing Ukraine of aggression, which officials denied, The New York Times reports.
Putin scrambled his defense council on Sunday night to discuss allegations of Ukrainian aggression against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine, which includes Donetsk and Luhansk.
The defense officials took turns accusing Ukraine of violating a ceasefire and attacking the separatist regions. Ukrainian officials denied any aggression and US officials have accused Russia of faking acts of aggression as a pretext to invade.
Putin used the televised meeting to declare the old peace agreement between the two sites effectively void and said he would decide whether to recognize Donetsk and Luhansk as independent territories.
The two regions, which have been at war with Ukraine since 2014, announced mass evacuations last week.
French President Emanuel Macron over the weekend appeared to have negotiated a summit between Putin and President Joe Biden this week but both sides stressed that the deal is tenuous.
Biden agreed in “principle” to meet with Putin on Thursday, Macron’s office said, but White House officials told the Times that the idea of a meeting was “notional” at best and would not happen if Russia invaded Ukraine.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told NBC News that Biden is willing to “go the extra mile on diplomacy,” but added that “every indication we see on the ground right now in terms of the disposition of Russian forces is that they are in fact getting prepared for a major attack on Ukraine.”
The Kremlin also downplayed the meeting, denying there are any “concrete plans” for the leaders to meet.
Russia plans to “crush” Ukraine:
Sullivan on NBC warned that Russia is planning an “extremely violent” invasion.
"We believe that any military operation of the size, scope and magnitude of what we believe the Russians are planning will be extremely violent. It will cost the lives of Ukrainians and Russians, civilians and military personnel alike," he said.
"But we also have intelligence to suggest that there will be an even greater form of brutality because this will not simply be some conventional war between two armies," he added. "It will be a war waged by Russia on the Ukrainian people to repress them, to crush them, to harm them."