President Joe Biden said the U.S. and some of its NATO allies are planning a meeting with Russia aimed at de-escalating tensions over Ukraine, where they’ll consider Russian President Vladimir Putin’s concerns about the alliance.
Biden said that he hopes by Friday to announce the meeting, which will include “at least four of our major NATO allies.” The subject will be Putin’s issues with the alliance “writ large and whether or not we can work out any accommodation as it relates to bringing down the temperature along the eastern front,” the U.S. president told reporters on Wednesday.
Biden’s announcement of plans for the meeting followed a two-hour video conference call with Putin on Tuesday intended to head off a feared Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin has massed more than 100,000 troops on Russia’s borders with its neighbor, along with tanks, artillery and other heavy equipment.
Biden’s remarks on Wednesday signal that his administration wants to calm the increasing tensions on Ukraine’s border by taking seriously Putin’s concerns, but is also ready to punish Russia without engaging U.S. troops if that effort is unsuccessful.
Putin has warned that Ukraine’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or the Western deployment of offensive weaponry in the country are “red lines” and has demanded binding security guarantees from the U.S. and its allies. After Tuesday’s video call, Russian officials highlighted the U.S. willingness to discuss the proposal as a sign of progress.
“We proceed from the assumption that our concerns will be heard, at least this time,” Putin said Wednesday in Sochi. Hinting at the same meeting mentioned by Biden, the Russian president said the two sides agreed during their Tuesday call to set up a body to examine the issues in detail and that Russia would submit its proposals within a week.
While Ukraine’s leadership has made moves to try to make NATO membership possible, by appointing a civilian defense minister, for example, the alliance has long signaled that full membership is unlikely anytime soon. Corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency have bedeviled Ukraine well before Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Those issues, along with Russia’s partial occupation of the country, remain concerns for NATO.
Biden said he warned Putin during the call that he’d face “severe consequences” for attacking Ukraine.
“Economic consequences like none he’s ever seen or ever have been seen in terms of being imposed,” Biden told reporters Wednesday as he departed the White House for a trip to Kansas City, Missouri. “He knows. His immediate response was he understood that.”
Biden said the U.S. also would “probably” reinforce its military footprint in NATO countries in response to an invasion, particularly those in eastern Europe. And he said he told Putin that the U.S. “will provide defensive capability to the Ukrainians, as well.”
But he said American forces would not fight on Ukraine’s behalf.
“The idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now,” he said.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters the administration is “preparing for all contingencies.” She declined to elaborate specifically on military steps, but said preparations include “specific robust responses to Russian escalation.”
Some Republicans have argued for a more robust response to the threatened Russian invasion of Ukraine, including supplying Kiev with more weaponry or even holding out the possibility of American air support for the country’s military.
U.S. intelligence suggests the Kremlin has prepared a plan for an offensive against Ukraine beginning as soon as early 2022 with as many as 175,000 personnel. But Russian officials have repeatedly denied that they’re preparing for war.
The U.S. is weighing a package of sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion that would target the country’s biggest banks and its ability to convert rubles into dollars, euros or British pounds, according to people familiar with the matter. The sanctions may also restrict investors from buying Russian debt on the secondary market, they said.
“I am absolutely confident that he got the message,” Biden said of Putin.
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