President Joe Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin of severe economic consequences should Russia go ahead with a invasion of Ukraine, a senior U.S. administration official said on Monday.
Biden and Putin are to hold a video call on Tuesday as the United States tries to head off Russia from launching military action against Ukraine after Moscow massed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukraine border.
The official, briefing reporters ahead of the call, said the United States has been working with European allies about a strong response should an invasion go forward. He said the United States and Europe would impose severe economic pain.
Biden planned to consult European allies later in the day to stress the need for solidarity, he said.
"We believe there is a way forward to allow us to send a clear message to Russia that there will be enduring and meaningful costs" should an invasion take place, the official said.
Russia has dismissed U.S. media reports about a possible Russian attack on Ukraine, accusing Washington of trying to aggravate the situation while blaming Moscow.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned a call on Monday with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Biden planned to talk to him in the days after the call, the official said.
Russia has a potential diplomatic off-ramp through the Minsk agreement if it wishes, the official said. This is an previously negotiated agreement aimed at ending war in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
"We're encouraging Russia to return to dialog through diplomatic avenues," the official said.
The official would not detail the economic sanctions that are ready to be imposed. CNN reported they target Putin's inner circle and could include the extreme step of disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks around the world.
The White House declined comment.
More than 94,000 Russian troops are believed to be massed near Ukraine's borders. Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said on Friday that Moscow may be planning a large-scale military offensive at the end of January, citing intelligence reports.
The U.S. official said it was still unclear whether Putin had made a final decision to launch an invasion.
The United States does not seek conflict with Russia but when necessary will impose meaningful consequences for harmful actions, the official added.
Russia has said it can move troops around on Russian territory as it sees fit and that they pose no external threat.
Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have a chasm of mutual distrust to bridge when they hold a virtual meeting on Tuesday in the shadow of what the United States believes is a threatened Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"A lamentable state," was how the Kremlin described relations ahead of the extended video conference call, which it expects to start around 10 a.m. ET.
Washington has accused Russia of massing troops near the border with Ukraine to intimidate an aspiring NATO member, suggesting it could be a repeat of Moscow's 2014 playbook, when it seized the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea from Ukraine. It says the West is ready with tough sanctions if Russia invades.
The Kremlin has rejected the idea that its forces are poised to invade as fear-mongering and has said its troops move around its own territory for purely defensive purposes.
For Moscow, the growing NATO embrace of a neighboring former Soviet republic - and what it sees as the nightmare possiblity of alliance missiles in Ukraine targeted against Russia - is a "red line" it will not allow to be crossed.
Putin has demanded legally binding security guarantees that NATO will not expand further east or place its weapons close to Russian territory; Washington has repeatedly said no country can veto Ukraine's NATO hopes.
"I don't accept anybody's red lines," Biden said on Friday.
Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council which is close to the Foreign Ministry, said their positions were unlikely to be reconciled.
"The only thing they can probably agree on - if it turns out to be a good conversation – is that everybody directly or indirectly engaged there in the situation should demonstrate restraint and commitment to de-escalate. But otherwise I see no way how Biden can promise Putin that NATO will not go east."
A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said Washington wanted to avert a crisis and a negative spiral in the broader relationship through diplomacy and de-escalation.
Some Russian and U.S. analysts have suggested the leaders could agree to set up de-escalation talks and the Kremlin has made clear it wants a new Putin-Biden summit next year.
While U.S. officials have repeatedly said they do not know Putin's intentions towards Ukraine, a Biden administration official told Reuters the United States believed one option he was weighing was a military offensive as soon as early 2022 involving 175,000 troops, armored units and artillery.
The U.S. estimated that half of those Russian units were already near the Ukrainian border, the same official said.
The United States offered last week to mediate between Russia and Ukraine on ending the seven-year-old war between Ukrainian government forces and Russian-backed separatists on the basis of the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said Moscow has no objections to that in principle.
But Vladimir Frolov, a foreign policy analyst and former Russian diplomat in the United States, said drawing Washington into that process would look like a defeat for Moscow. Nor was he confident that Putin would settle for a vague promise of talks on the future security architecture of Europe.
"By demanding legally binding guarantees Moscow has narrowed the room for maneuver for its diplomacy, which kind of tells you they are not really betting on diplomacy to succeed," Frolov said.
In Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine's armed forces were capable of fighting off any attack from Russia as the country marked its national army day on Monday with a display of U.S. armored vehicles and patrol boats.
'NO MORE STRENGTH'
People interviewed on the streets of the Ukrainian capital had mixed expectations of Tuesday's talks.
"We believe that Biden is a big friend of our country. So far he proved himself as a person who sincerely wants to help Ukraine out of this senseless situation," said Volodymyr Pylypyuk, 71.
But Ruslan Lapuk, a 28-year-old bartender, saw little chance of a breakthrough. "We have nobody to count on but on our own forces, on ourselves first of all," he said.
Vladimir Bulatov, 61, told Reuters in Moscow that the leaders should talk about reducing the risk of a "hot war," but he doubted whether it was possible. "I don't believe anything sensible will come out of this meeting."
Elena, a pensioner interviewed in the conflict region of eastern Ukraine, said she was pinning her hopes on a halt to shelling.
"Things have to change - that's what we are hoping for," she said. "We have no more strength to endure this."
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