Biden warns Putin of economic pain if he invades Ukraine

President Joe Biden is ready to warn Vladimir Putin in a video call Tuesday that Russia will face economic sanctions if it invades neighboring Ukraine as the US president seeks a diplomatic solution to deal with the tens of thousands of Russian soldiers massed near the Ukrainian border.

Biden aims to make it clear that his administration is prepared to take action against the Kremlin that would result in “a very real cost” to the Russian economy, according to White House officials. Putin, for his part, should demand from Biden that the NATO military alliance never extend to Ukraine, which has long sought to become a member. It is a failure for the Americans and their NATO allies.

“We have meaningfully consulted with our allies and believe we have a way forward that will cause significant and serious damage to the Russian economy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. -first of the meeting. “You can call it a threat. You can call it a fact. You can call this preparation. You can call it whatever you want to call it.

The leader-to-leader conversation – with Biden speaking from the situation room, Putin from Moscow – is expected to be one of the most difficult of Biden’s presidency, and comes at a perilous time. US intelligence officials have determined that Russia has assembled 70,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and prepared for a possible invasion early next year.

The United States has not determined whether Putin has made the final decision to invade. Still, Biden intends to tell the Russian leader that there will be a “very real cost” if Russia takes military action, according to a senior administration official who told reporters on condition of anonymity. .

Biden was vice president in 2014 when Russian troops entered the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea and annexed the territory of Ukraine. Aides says the Crimean episode – one of former President Barack Obama’s darkest moments on the international stage – looms large as Biden examines the current latent crisis.

NATO’s eastward expansion has from the start been a bone of contention not only with Moscow but also with Washington. In 1996, when President Bill Clinton’s National Security Team debated the timing of invitations to join former Soviet allies Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Defense Secretary William Perry called for a postponement in order to keep Russian relations on track. Perry wrote in his memoir that when he lost the internal debate, he considered stepping down.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were formally invited in 1997 and joined in 1999. They were followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the former Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since then Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia have joined, bringing NATO’s total to 30 countries.

A key principle of the NATO alliance is that membership is open to any eligible country. And no foreigner has the right to veto membership. While it is unlikely that Ukraine will be invited to the alliance anytime soon, the United States and its allies will not rule it out.

In Washington, Republicans see the moment as a key test of Biden’s leadership on the world stage.

Biden has vowed as a candidate to reaffirm American leadership after President Donald Trump’s emphasis on an “America First” foreign policy. But Biden has come under heavy criticism from Republicans who say he has failed to slow Iran’s march to nuclear power and that the Biden administration has done too little to counteract them. autocratic leaders like Chinese Xi Jinping, Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Putin.

“Other authoritarians in Beijing and Tehran will be watching the reaction of the free world,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “And President Biden has the opportunity to set the tone when he speaks with Putin.”

Trump, who has shown unusual deference to Putin during his presidency, said in an interview with Newsmax Monday that the Biden-Putin conversation would not be a “fair game,” describing her as the equivalent of the six-time champion of the Super Bowl that the New England Patriots face. a high school football team.

Ahead of Putin’s call, Biden met with leaders in the UK, France, Germany and Italy on Monday to coordinate messages and potential sanctions.

The White House said in a statement that the leaders called on Russia to “defuse the tensions” and agreed that diplomacy “is the only way forward to resolve the conflict.”

Ahead of the Biden-Putin confrontation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday.

Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he and Blinken “have agreed to pursue joint and concerted action” and expressed his gratitude to the United States and its allies for “continued support for our sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Biden himself is expected to speak with Zelenskyy later this week.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the face of aggression Russian ”.

The Kremlin has made it clear that Putin plans to ask Biden for binding guarantees preventing NATO expansion in Ukraine. Biden and his associates have indicated that such a guarantee is not likely, with the president himself declaring that he “will not accept the red line from anyone.”

Psaki stressed that “NATO member countries decide who is a NATO member, not Russia. And this is how the process has always been and how it will unfold. “

Yet Putin sees it as a moment to readjust the power dynamics of US-Russian relations.

“These are fundamental principles established 30 years ago for relations between Russia and the West,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy expert. “Russia demands to revise these principles, the West says there is no reason for it. So, it’s impossible to agree like that.

Beyond Ukraine, many other thorny issues are also on the table, including cyber attacks and human rights. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said US-Russian relations were in “a rather dire state overall”.

The White House and the Kremlin have both sought in advance to lower expectations for the call. Both sides said they did not expect any breakthroughs on Ukraine or the other issues to be discussed, but only the conversation itself will be progress.

Litvinova reported from Moscow. Associated Press editors Robert Burns and Darlene Superville contributed reporting.

Christi C. Elwood