President Biden will speak with Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelensky and leaders of key European allies in order to “coordinate his message” and go into his Tuesday video call with Russian president Vladimir Putin with “unity and strong transatlantic solidarity on the way forward,” a senior administration official said Monday.
The official said Mr Biden plans to raise America’s “deep concern” with Russia’s military buildup along its’ border with Ukraine when he speaks to Mr Putin, as well as “other critical issues “ such as “strategic stability, cyber and Iran’s nuclear program”.
“The President will conduct this discussion the same way he has with past discussions with Putin in a professional, candid, straightforward manner, where he will make clear — without any kind of rhetorical flourish or finger wagging — what the United States is prepared to do, both in respect to deterrence and in respect to diplomacy,” the official said.
In recent weeks, Russian forces have begun a buildup of troops and materiel along Ukraine’s eastern frontier that experts say is reminiscent of what preceded Russia’s February 2014 invasion of Crimea.
The administration official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, stressed the US does not know whether Mr Putin has made a decision about “further military escalation” in Ukraine. But they added that he appears to be “putting in place the capacity to engage in such such escalation should he decide to do so”.
“We’ve seen this Russian playbook before in 2014 ... they intensified disinformation in an effort to portray Ukraine as the aggressor and use that in an effort to justify what was a pre-planned military offensive”.
The official said Mr Biden will “will make clear that there will be very real costs should Russia choose to proceed”, while leaving room for “an effective way forward” with diplomatic efforts.
Those costs, the official said, will include further financial sanctions imposed in concert with European allies, with whom US officials have been in “intensive interactions” in recent weeks about how respond should Mr Putin choose to send troops over the border.
The US and many of its’ European allies imposed sanctions on Russia in retaliation for its’ previous invasion and annexation of Crimea. Further rounds of sanctions have been imposed by both Congress and the Obama and Trump administrations in retaliation for Russia’s continued occupation of Ukrainian territory and for other “malign activities,” including Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections.
While the previous rounds of sanctions have not dissuaded Russia from continuing to meddle in western countries’ democratic processes or motivated Russian forces to leave Ukraine, the official said further escalation by Moscow would result in more punishing economic penalties.
“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,” they said, adding that such countermeasures would impose “genuine and meaningful and enduring costs”.
The official also suggested that should Mr Putin’s forces make any attempt to invade or occupy more of Ukraine’s territory, it would “certainly” trigger requests for US “forces and capabilities” to deploy into Nato territory, including that of countries along the alliance’s eastern flank such as Poland, the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.
Such requests, the official said, would receive a “positive response” from the US, which would deploy “additional forces and capabilities” to conduct exercises “to ensure the safety and security of our eastern flank allies in the face of that kind of aggression”.
“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, adding that US officials are “working through” what they called “prudent planning of what we would have to do in the event of an invasion and how we would have to ensure the security of our Nato allies in that context”.
Speaking at Monday’s daily White House press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that Mr Biden views “the territorial integrity of Ukraine as a vital global interest for the global community” and said “stability across Europe” as a US interest.
Asked what, beyond more sanctions, could Mr Biden use to threaten Mr Putin into pulling his forces back from the Ukrainian border, Ms Psaki replied that it was “not about threats”.
“It’s about conveying that the right path forward here is through diplomacy. In the meantime, on financial sanctions, we've consulted significantly with our allies and believe we have a path forward that would impose significant and severe harm on the Russian economy,” she said. “You can call that a threat. You can call that a fact you can call that preparation, whatever you want to call it. But that is something we've talked about publicly and certainly the President would convey that as well”.
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