President Joe Biden has said that Russia will have “a heavy price to pay” if it invades Ukraine.
“I made it clear to President Putin that if he makes any more moves and goes into Ukraine, we will have severe sanctions. We will increase our presence in Europe with our NATO allies, and it will have to be a heavy price to pay for it,” Biden told reporters on Friday.
Biden made his comment after reporters asked about his Thursday phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the 50-minute call, the two presidents mostly discussed de-escalation in Ukraine and U.S.-Russia diplomatic relations heading into European talks that will begin in mid-January.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops have gathered at the Ukrainian border, raising worries amongst the U.S. and its allies of a possible invasion. Russia has said it built up its military to prevent NATO expansion towards its borders and to defend Russian ethnic nationals living in the war-torn east Ukrainian region of Donbas.
More than 13,000 lives have been lost in the Donbas region since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Russia-backed separatists have fought in the region, though the Russian government has officially denied any involvement. Ukraine has accused Russia of trying to destabilize and claim the region.
Kremlin foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov has denied the accusation. Instead, he said Russia wants a swift end to conflict and didn’t want to get bogged down in “endless discussions” with the U.S. government about the best way to protect Russians in Donbas.
To discourage a Russian invasion, Biden administration officials have spoken with leaders across Europe, Emily Horne, a spokesperson for the White House National Security Council (NSC), said Wednesday.
Administration officials have spoken to officials within the European Union, the 57-member Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO is a multinational force that seeks to limit Russia’s and other countries’ military influence in Europe.
Together, the groups are “consulting and coordinating on a common approach in response to Russia’s military buildup on the border with Ukraine,” Horne said.
Biden prefers a diplomatic path to de-escalating regional tensions, but will offer support to Ukrainian troops and possibly pursue sanctions against Russia if an invasion occurs.
Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, said that any U.S. actions against Russia would potentially break diplomatic ties between the two nations, the Associated Press reported.
Russia has pushed back against efforts to grant NATO membership to Ukraine and other Eastern European countries that were previously part of the Soviet Union. Russia has also expressed a desire for the U.S. and allied countries to remove or reduce any military support for Ukraine.
However, that seems unlikely.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky by phone. After the call, Zelensky said that the U.S. had pledged its “full” support against “Russian aggression.”
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