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Biden will warn Putin of ‘consequences’ for invading Ukraine

Tens of thousands of Russian troops are massed on Russia's border with Ukraine

Russian tanks move toward Ukraine amidst the 2014 invasion of Crimea.
Russian tanks move toward Ukraine amidst the 2014 invasion of Crimea. (Pierre Crom/Getty ImagesGetty Images)

President Joe Biden will warn Russian leader Vladimir Putin that “meaningful consequences” await if Russia attacks Ukraine, a Biden administration official told reporters Monday.

But Biden will not threaten force. Instead, the U.S. will look to employ economic sanctions paired with increased support for the Ukrainian military and for NATO allies, as the U.S. did following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Biden will participate in a call with Putin on Tuesday amid a Russian buildup of hundreds of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border that U.S. intelligence agencies are likening to what they saw before the 2014 invasion.

The video call will be the first such conversation between the two leaders since July, and topics of discussion include Ukraine, Iran’s nuclear weapons program and cybersecurity concerns, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to the official, U.S. intelligence agencies are tracking the movements of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border which now include battalion tactical groups — ground combat units that were deployed in Ukraine following the 2014 annexation. 

The troop buildup is accompanied by a spike in anti-Ukrainian social media activity, coming from Russia, to levels not seen since 2014, according to the official.

Invasion foreseen

U.S. intelligence agencies suspect that the Kremlin is planning a multi-front offensive against Ukraine as soon as early next year that could involve up to 175,000 troops, The Washington Post reported last week. 

But the official stressed that a broadening of Russia’s war against Ukraine is not a foregone conclusion, and there is not yet a clear indication that Putin has given an affirmative order to carry out the attack. 

The troops’ movements, however, are “consistent with planning” for a military escalation in Ukraine, the official said. 

The official stressed that Biden will convey to Putin that the U.S. is not seeking conflict with Russia, but will defend NATO’s eastern flank bordering Ukraine, which includes Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Romania. 

NATO will likely be a key point of discussion Tuesday, as the Kremlin has said it wants “legal guarantees” from the military alliance that it will never expand into Ukraine. 

But the U.S. is unlikely to agree to that. 

The ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Michael McCaul of Texas, said Biden must offer no concessions to Putin and instead “make absolutely clear the devastating economic and diplomatic consequences the Putin regime would face if it further invaded Ukraine.”

Speaking during a press conference last week, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said that Russia has “no say” in whether Ukraine will be allowed into the 30-country alliance. 

“It’s only Ukraine and 30 NATO allies that decide when Ukraine is ready to join NATO. Russia has no veto, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence to try to control their neighbors,” Stoltenberg said.

According to the official, Biden will speak with European allies ahead of the call with Putin to coordinate his message, and will speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the days after the call. 

“Diplomacy is the responsible way to respond to this potential crisis,” the official said.

Democrats on Capitol Hill said Biden was showing his mettle by taking the issue up with Putin directly. “There’s no substitute for person-to-person diplomacy,” Connecticut Sen. Christopher S. Murphy told CNN on Sunday.

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