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By Phil Stewart
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Russia's military buildup near Ukraine has expanded to include supplies of blood along with other medical materials that would allow it to treat casualties, in yet another key indicator of Moscow's military readiness, three U.S. officials tell Reuters.
Current and former U.S. officials say concrete indicators -- like blood supplies -- are critical in determining whether Moscow would be prepared to carry out an invasion, if Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to do so.
The disclosure of the blood supplies by U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, adds another piece of context to growing U.S. warnings that Russia could be preparing for a new invasion of Ukraine as it masses more than 100,000 troops near its borders.
These warnings have included President Joe Biden's prediction that a Russian assault was likely and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken's remarks that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at "very short notice."
The Pentagon has previously acknowledged the deployment of "medical support" as part of Russia's buildup. But the disclosure of blood supplies adds a level of detail that experts say is critical to determining Russian military readiness.
"It doesn't guarantee that there's going to be another attack, but you would not execute another attack unless you have that in hand," said Ben Hodges, a retired U.S. lieutenant general now with the Center for European Policy Analysis research institute.
The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a written request for comment
Ukraine's deputy defence minister Hanna Malyar denied the information.
"This information is not true. Such 'news' is an element of information and psychological war. The purpose of such information is to spread panic and fear in our society," she said on Facebook.
On Friday, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy criticised a "feeling abroad" that a war had already started. "We don't need this panic," he told reporters in Kyiv.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately comment on any Russian movement of blood supplies but noted repeated public U.S. warnings about Russian military readiness.
The Pentagon declined to discuss intelligence assessments.
The three U.S. officials who spoke about the blood supplies declined to say specifically when the United States detected their movement to formations near Ukraine. However, two of them said it was within recent weeks.
Russian officials have repeatedly denied planning to invade. But Moscow says it feels menaced by Kyiv's growing ties with the West.
Eight years ago it seized Crimea and backed separatist forces who took control of large parts of eastern Ukraine.
Russia's security demands, presented in December, include an end to further NATO enlargement, barring Ukraine from ever joining and pulling back the alliance's forces and weaponry from eastern European countries that joined after the Cold War.
Putin said on Friday the United States and NATO had not addressed Russia's main security demands in their standoff over Ukraine but that Moscow was ready to keep talking.
Biden has said he will not send U.S. or allied troops to fight Russia in Ukraine but told Ukraine's Zelenskiy in a phone call on Thursday that Washington and its allies stand ready to respond decisively if Russia invades the former Soviet state, the White House said.
The United States and its allies have said Russia will face tough economic sanctions https://www.reuters.com/markets/europe/how-financial-western-sanctions-might-target-russia-2022-01-19 if it attacks Ukraine.
Western countries have already imposed repeated rounds of economic sanctions since Russian troops seized and annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014.
But such moves have had scant impact on Russian policy, with Moscow, Europe's main energy supplier, calculating that the West would stop short of steps serious enough to interfere with gas exports.
(Reporting by Phil StewartAdditional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv;Editing by Mary Milliken, Alistair Bell and Frances Kerry)