The White House has hinted at President Joe Biden’s intention to warn Russian president Vladimir Putin that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would have significant costs for Moscow, prior to a scheduled video conference between the two leaders on Tuesday.
The president intends to “send a clear message to Russia that there will be genuine and meaningful and direct costs should they choose to go forward with a military escalation,” according to an anonymous high-level official within the Biden administration. The official suggested that the crisis could only effectively end with bilateral diplomacy between Washington and Moscow, which represented the most “effective way forward.”
The two leaders’ video conference is slated to take place as Russian troops continued to gather on the country’s border with Ukraine, opposite the contested Donbass region, where a pro-Russian rebel group has maintained independence from the central government in Kiev. According to William Burns, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. observers have watched a “steady and unusual buildup” of Russian soldiers and equipment along the border; the troops are now thought to number as many as 175,000, a substantial increase from the previous week.
This buildup, the second of 2021 after an increase in troops during the spring, has caused fears of a military conflict in the United States and Europe. A call was held on Monday between Biden and European leaders within NATO, including British prime minister Boris Johnson, Italian prime minister Mario Draghi, French president Emmanuel Macron, and outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel. The statement released by the White House condemned Russia’s use of “increasingly harsh rhetoric” and indicated that the tensions in eastern Ukraine should be de-escalated through the implementation of the Minsk Agreements, a pair of settlements negotiated in 2014 and 2015 that all parties agreed would form the basis for a future peace agreement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke separately to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in advance of the Biden-Putin call on Monday, according to State Department spokesman Ned Price, who confirmed that Biden and Zelensky would hold another call in its aftermath.
Price indicated that Biden would reject Putin’s insistence that Ukraine not be allowed to join NATO, arguing that the military alliance would maintain its open-door policy and could accept Ukraine as a member at a future date.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.