(CBS) – U.S. intelligence is warning of a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine involving as many as 175,000 troops as soon as January, a U.S. official confirmed to CBS News following a Friday report in The Washington Post about the scale of a possible offensive.
The plans involve extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups with an estimated 175,000 personnel, along with armor, artillery and equipment, according to an administration official.
Roughly 70,000 Russian troops are currently deployed opposite Ukraine, although they lack the support units needed to launch an invasion. That support would come from reservists.
According to the administration official, Russia has embarked on a sudden and rapid program to establish a ready reserve of contract reservists — something that was not seen back in the spring during a rapid Russian military buildup near Ukraine’s borders.
A National Security Council spokesperson said the Biden administration has been consistent in its message to Russia, which is that the United States does not seek conflict, and that diplomacy and de-escalation should be used to avert a crisis.
“We are deeply concerned by evidence that Russia is stepping up its planning for significant military action against Ukraine,” the spokesperson told CBS News.
The U.S. and other officials have been sounding the alarm in recent weeks over Russian troops massing, concerned that an offensive or an escalation of a seven-year-long conflict in the volatile eastern region of Donbas could be on the horizon.
Russian officials, however, have said reports of a military buildup are baseless and in turn accused NATO of building more of a foothold in what Russia considers its own backyard. The country’s top diplomat attacked the alliance this week for deploying a significant amount of military hardware near Russia’s borders and said Moscow could respond to security threats from Western countries and Ukraine if necessary.
“The fact that we are being accused of conducting military exercises on our sovereign territory by the countries that are bringing troops and military equipment to our borders in huge quantities from overseas and the fact that the United States has surrounded us from all sides with their military bases is something every schoolkid knows,” Russia’s Sergey Lavrov said. “And yet this hysteria is constantly being whipped up,” he said.
The U.S., however, has information indicating that Russian media outlets and others have been increasing content disparaging Ukraine and NATO, partly to blame a possible Russian military escalation on Ukraine, according to the administration official.
There are also indications that Russian officials have proposed emphasizing a narrative that Ukrainian leaders were installed by the West, harbor hatred for the “Russian world” and were acting against the Ukrainian people’s interest.
Mary Ilyushina contributed reporting to this article .