The Biden administration refused to rule out deploying additional US troops to Eastern Europe should Russian President Vladimir Putin invade Ukraine and President Joe Biden will threaten him with ‘substantial economic’ scantions shoud he make such a move.
Putin has made preparations to invade Ukraine but it’s unclear he’s made the final decision to do so, a senior administration official said on Monday.
The official noted the US was ready to show a ‘combination of support for the Ukrainian military, strong economic countermeasures, and the substantial increase in support and capability to our NATO allies’ if Moscow moved forward with an attack.
The official briefed reporters on the situation in the Ukraine ahead of Biden‘s call with Putin on Tuesday.
Taking a tough tone ahead of the conversation between the two leaders, the official noted that the U.S. and Eureopeans are prepared to place ‘substantial economic’ sanctions on Russia should Putin invade the Ukraine – a message President Biden will send during the virtual talk with his Russian counterpart.
While the official wouldn’t commit to the United States putting boots on the ground in the Ukraine to help President Volodymyr Zelensky, the person did say that in the event of an invasion, the US would offer reassurance to NATO allies with additional forces.
‘To be clear, we do not know whether President Putin has made a decision about further military escalation in Ukraine. But we do know that he is putting in place the capacity to engage in such escalation should he decide to do so. We’ve seen this Russian playbook before in 2014 when Russia last invaded Ukraine,’ the senior administration official said.
‘We have seen the movement of additional capabilities and forces to the vicinity of Ukraine in multiple different areas. And these movements are consistent with the planning that we see underway for a military escalation in Ukraine,’ the official added.
The official added that Russia could still choose a ‘different course’ and the Biden administration is encouraging Moscow to ‘return to dialogue through diplomatic avenues.
The situation in the Urkaine is expected to be the dominate topic of Biden and Putin’s conversation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.
‘It’s also an opportunity to discuss a range of topics in the US and Russia relationship including strategic stability, cyber and regional issues, but you can certainly expect that the our concerns about the military activities on the border will be a prominent part of the discussion,’ she said at her press briefing of the Tuesday call.
‘I think our objective from the beginning of the president’s time in office has not been to escalate the relationship but has been to move to a more stable footing in the relationship,’ she noted.
But, she added, ‘the president is not going to hold back on conveying his concern.’
She also indicated there would be a US military response if Russia invaded, pointing back to the 2014 Russian invasion of the Crimea.
‘If you look back at 2014, that one of the outcomes here, if they were to decide to move forward is that the other countries in the eastern flank, in many of them NATO partners, will be looking for reassurance from the United States. That’s something that was a follow up to 2014. I’m not sure that is what Russia wants to see. But that would be a natural consequence if they were to move forward as well,’ she said.
Psaki pushed back on questions whether Biden’s diplomatic talk with Putin could be effective in staving off an invasion – an approach that didn’t work in 2014 when Russia took the Crimea.
‘We will see if they are but our objective first and foremost is to prevent the move forward the military progression that we saw happen in 2014,’ she said.
‘It’s not about threats,’ she said of the upcoming call. ‘It’s about conveying the right path forward here is through diplomacy.’
U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and the action has resulted in comparisions being made to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Ahead of Biden and Putin’s conversation, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken will speak with Zelensky and Biden will call the Ukranian president in the days following his conversation with Putin, the official said.
The U.S. will also back its NATO allies in the region, the official said. Zelensky has pushed to get the Ukraine made a member of the alliance, but that has not happened yet.
The official hinted at a U.S. deployment to Eastern Europe if Russia invades, saying there would be ‘a positive response from the United States for additional forces and capabilities and exercises to take place to ensure the safety and security of our of our eastern flank allies in the face of that kind of aggression in Ukraine.’
‘I think you could anticipate that in the event of an invasion, the need to reinforce the confidence and reassurance of our NATO allies and our eastern flank allies would be real, and the United States would be prepared to provide that kind of reassurance,’ the official said.
Biden will also talk with European allies on Monday ahead of his call with Putin as preparations are being made for severe economic sanctions on Russia should its forces invade the Ukraine.
‘We have had intensive discussions with our European partners about what we would do collectively in the event of a major Russian military escalation in Ukraine. And we believe that we have a path forward that would involve substantial economic countermeasures, by both the Europeans and the United States that would impose significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy should they choose to proceed,’ the officail said.
The person declined to get into specific details but said the intent was to send ‘a clear message to Russia that there will be genuine and meaningful and enduring costs to choosing to go forward should they choose to go forward with a military escalation.’
Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Monday described the state of U.S.-Russia relations as ‘ quite lamentable’ on the eve of the video call between the two leaders.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Russia is countering what it regards as NATO’s creeping expansion towards its borders. He noted Putin will ask Biden aboutlong-term security guarantees that Moscow needs from the West.
Putin is expected to raise the possibility of holding another U.S.-Russia summit. Biden and Putin last met at a summit in June in Geneva.
‘They will need to discuss how the understandings they reached in Geneva are being implemented, to review what is being fully implemented, and what needs extra work,’ Peskov said.
‘Of course it (the agenda) is bilateral relations, which remain in quite a lamentable state. And then it’s the questions that loom large on the agenda. Primarily tension around Ukraine, the theme of NATO advancement towards our borders, and President Putin’s initiative about security guarantees,’ he noted.
Satellite images have revealed huge new camps of Russian troops, tanks and artillery near the Ukrainian border as Putin continues massing his forces on Europe’s doorstep.