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Biden hints at talks with Russian, Ukrainian leaders as West warns Moscow over Ukraine

President Joe Biden, Nov. 15, 2021, on the South Lawn of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. and NATO officials have issued fresh warnings of the possible consequences of any new Russian aggression against neighboring Ukraine, with Washington suggesting that “all options are on the table” if the alliance is forced to respond to an escalation by Moscow.

Later, U.S. President Joe Biden said in response to a reporter’s question that “in all probability” he would speak directly with Russian President Vladimir Putin or Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in an effort to defuse tensions in the region.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on November 26 that Russia had assembled combat-ready troops, tanks, and heavy military equipment near its border with Ukraine and cautioned Moscow that any force against its neighbor would incur “costs.”

Reports of a Russian buildup of more than 90,000 troops recently prompted the United States and Germany to reiterate their support for Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity.

“If Russia uses force against Ukraine that will have costs, that would have consequences,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels.

Moscow has denied direct involvement in Kyiv’s seven-year war with separatists in eastern Ukraine despite overwhelming evidence of Russian troop and other assistance. It has downplayed the recent reports of its troop movements as an internal matter.

“This is the second time this year that Russia has amassed a large and unusual concentration of forces in the region,” Stoltenberg said in an allusion to a purported buildup in the spring that eased soon after a summit between Putin and Biden in June.

Russia this week launched military drills in the Black Sea region near Ukraine.

Earlier on November 26, Zelenskiy said his country was prepared for any Russian escalation and alleged that unidentified Russians and Ukrainians were plotting to overthrow his government next week.

Russia has recently stepped up its involvement in an ongoing feud between Alyaksandr Lukashenka and the West since a highly criticized Belarusian presidential election in 2020.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO’s 29 other foreign ministers are scheduled to gather in Latvia on November 30, with Russia’s activities high on the agenda.

Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are both expected to attend an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) ministerial meeting on December 2-3.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried said on November 26 that a key focus of Blinken’s European trip next week would be how to respond to challenges including Russia and Belarus.

“As you can appreciate, all options are on the table and there’s a toolkit that includes a whole range of options,” Donfried told reporters.

“It’s now for the alliance to decide what are the next moves that NATO wants to take,” she said of the NATO and OSCE gatherings.

“Next week, we will talk about our assessment of what’s happening on Russia’s border with Ukraine and we will begin that conversations of what are the options that are on the table and what it is that NATO as an alliance would like to do together.”