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Biden vows U.S. will act ‘decisively’ if Russia invades Ukraine

President Biden on Sunday had a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky about the Russian troop buildup.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

President Biden on Sunday conferred with the leader of Ukraine over the Russian troop buildup near its border, promising that the U.S. and allies will act “decisively” if there is an invasion.

The call between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came as the U.S. and Western allies prepared for a series of diplomatic meetings to try to de-escalate a crisis that Moscow said could rupture ties with Washington.

“President Biden made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement following the call.

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Past military incursions by Putin loom large as Biden weighs his next steps. In 2014, Russian troops marched into the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and seized the territory from Ukraine, an annexation that was one of the darker moments for President Obama on the international stage.

Psaki said Biden in the call with Zelensky underscored his commitment to the principle of “nothing about you without you” — meaning that the U.S. won’t negotiate policy that affects Europe without input from allies.

Ukrainian and Western officials are worried about a Russian military buildup near Ukraine, mindful of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Biden has spoken of hitting Russia with economy-jarring sanctions if it moves on Ukraine’s territory but said last month that U.S. military action is not on the table.

The Kremlin has demanded that any expansion of NATO exclude Ukraine and other former Soviet countries. The Russians have also demanded that the military alliance remove offensive weaponry from countries in the region.

The White House has dismissed Russia’s demands on NATO as non-starters. A key principle of the NATO alliance is that membership is open to any qualifying country, and no outsider has membership veto power. While there’s little prospect that Ukraine would be invited into the alliance soon, the U.S. and its allies won’t rule it out.

Zelensky said in a Twitter posting after Sunday’s call that “keeping peace in Europe, preventing further escalation, reforms, deoligarchization were discussed.”

“We appreciate the unwavering support,” Zelensky said.

The United States has made little progress in efforts to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to ease tensions. Senior U.S. and Russian officials are scheduled to meet Jan. 9-10 in Geneva to discuss the situation. Those talks are to be followed by meetings at the NATO-Russia Council and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Biden spoke with Putin for nearly an hour on Thursday. He told reporters the next day that he warned Putin that the Russian economy would pay a “heavy price” if the country, which has massed some 100,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, makes further moves.

“I’m not going to negotiate here in public, but we made it clear that he cannot — I emphasize cannot — move on Ukraine,” Biden said Friday.

Biden said he told Putin it was important for the Russians to take steps toward easing the crisis before the meetings.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, in describing the presidents’ conversation last week, said Biden’s pursuit of sanctions “could lead to a complete rupture of relations between our countries, and Russia-West relations will be severely damaged.”

U.S. intelligence findings indicate that Russia has made preparations for a potential invasion in early 2022. But White House officials say it remains unclear whether Putin has made a decision to move forward with military action.

Still, Biden said he remained hopeful for the upcoming talks. White House officials say they will consult closely with Western allies.

“I always expect if you negotiate, you make progress, but we’ll see,” Biden said Friday. “We’ll see.”

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday he feared that Putin was intent on invading Ukraine, and “nothing other than a level of sanctions that Russia has never seen will deter him.”

“Russia needs to understand we are united in this,” Schiff told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I also think that a powerful deterrent is the understanding that if they do invade, it is going to bring [NATO] closer to Russia, not push it farther away.”


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