Biden To Threaten Putin With ‘Significant And Severe Economic Harm’ If Russia Invades Ukraine

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Shelby Talcott Senior White House Correspondent
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President Joe Biden is holding a video call Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin as Russian-Ukraine tensions continue to escalate.

As a precursor to the call, Biden spoke with European allies Monday over the “shared concern about the Russian military build-upon Ukraine’s borders and Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric,” the White House said. Senior administration officials told reporters that Biden “will make clear that there will be very real costs should Russia choose to proceed, but he will also make clear that there is an effective way forward with respect to diplomacy,” indicating the American president is pushing for a more diplomatic solution to the issue.

While the White House’s readout of Biden’s call with allies didn’t directly mention sanctions, one senior administration official told reporters that European allies and the U.S. agreed on sanctions that would cause “significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy.” The official appeared to downplay the idea of getting involved militarily, telling reporters they are “not seeking to end up in” such “a circumstance.”

“We have had intensive discussions with our European partners about what we would do collectively in the event of a major Russian military escalation in Ukraine, and we believe that we have a path forward that would involve substantial economic countermeasures by both the Europeans and the United States,” the official explained. (RELATED: US Issues Threat To European Country Warning About War)

“I don’t want to use a public press call to talk about the particular sensitive challenges that President Biden will lay out for President Putin. But I would say that the United States is not seeking to end up in a circumstance in which the focus of our countermeasures is the direct use of American military force,” the official continued.

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 06: U.S. President Joe Biden pauses to answer a question before leaving the East Room after talking about the Build Back Better legislation's new rules around prescription drug prices at the White House on December 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. According to the White House, the legislation will lower the costs of prescription drugs by giving negotiation powers to Medicare, imposing a tax penalty if drug companies increase prices faster than inflation, lowering insulin prices to $35 a month for people with diabetes and other regulations. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 06: U.S. President Joe Biden pauses to answer a question before leaving the East Room after talking about the Build Back Better legislation’s new rules around prescription drug prices at the White House on December 06, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The official declined to say whether Biden would lay out “what circumstances the U.S. military could get involved” during his phone call with Putin, saying they’d “prefer to keep those communications with the Russians private.”

Even with threat of sanctions and retaliation from the U.S., tensions have continued to build between Russia and Ukraine. U.S. intelligence officials believe that Moscow is prepping for a “massive” multi-front offensive against Ukraine as soon as the next few weeks, according to The Washington Post.

“The troop movements have involved the addition of battalion tactical groups around Ukraine in multiple, different geographies around those borders – to the south, the west, and to the northeast as well,” a senior administration official told reporters. “And we have also seen, as Secretary [Antony] Blinken said last week, a significant spike in social media activity pushing anti-Ukrainian propaganda, which is approaching levels that we last saw in the lead up to Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine in 2014. ”

Biden, in addition to Tuesday’s phone call with Putin, has been in “constant contact” with the Ukrainian government. He said Friday that the administration is putting together “the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives” aimed at making it “very, very difficult” for Putin to move ahead with an invasion. Biden, according to an official, is “looking forward to the opportunity to engage” with Putin during the video call.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated this sentiment on Monday, saying that the administration has “been preparing a range of economic sanctions or economic options that could have a detrimental impact on the Russian economy.”

Following Biden’s call with Putin, which last just over two hours, the White House offered a readout reiterating much of the information already known. The White House noted the two “discuss[ed] a range of issues on the U.S.-Russia agenda” and highlighted the concerns surrounding Ukraine.

“President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the U.S. and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation,” the White House said. “President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy.”

Ultimately, the administration offered no promise of a solution, instead noting that the two “teams” will “follow up.”