US vows to boost military presence if Russia attacks Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) shakes hands with US President Joe Biden ahead of their talks in Geneva in June 2021

The United States will impose “severe economic harm” on Russia and boost its military presence in Eastern Europe should Moscow invade Ukraine, the White House warned Monday, laying out the high stakes on the eve of talks between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin.

The US president will also quickly inform his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky of the details of his discussion with Putin, taking place by videoconference Tuesday, as tens of thousands of Russian troops were positioned near the Ukraine border, a senior US official told reporters.

But Biden will make clear that there “will be genuine and meaningful and enduring costs to choosing to go forward should (Russia) choose to go forward with a military escalation,” the official said, on grounds of anonymity.

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In addition, Biden will make clear that if Putin “moved in, there would be an increasing request from eastern flank allies and a positive response from the United States for additional forces and capabilities and exercises,” they said.

The US official said that Biden will be speaking Monday with key European allies to coordinate their stances, and that Secretary of State Antony Blinken would also talk to Zelensky beforehand.

Ukraine has estimated that Russia has around 100,000 troops near its border.

And Putin wants a promise from the West that Ukraine would not become a part of NATO, the transatlantic alliance created to confront the former Soviet Union.

Such talk, the official added, “would be precipitous conflict saber-rattling, and we’d prefer to keep those communications with the Russians private.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “did chair a meeting this morning with key departmental leaders, including the Chairman of the joint chiefs of staff and General (Tod) Wolters out at EUCom (the US European Command) to discuss the situation in Ukraine and of course, in western Russia,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Monday.

The Kremlin said earlier Monday that Moscow is not expecting “breakthroughs” from the call.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the United States still believes that the Minsk agreements between Russia and the West on implementing a ceasefire in Ukraine’s war with pro-Russia separatists were possible.

But if Russia does not show interest in that, he said the United States is prepared to apply “high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.”

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