Biden to warn Putin over Ukraine military escalation: Senior US official

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US President Joe Biden will press Russian President Vladimir Putin on Moscow’s “harmful and destabilizing actions” during a call later this week, a senior US official said Monday.

But the official also played down recent US reports that US intelligence thought Russia was planning an offensive on Ukraine next year, involving up to 175,000 troops.

Biden and Putin are scheduled to hold a video conference call on Tuesday.

The US has said it would impose sanctions on Russia if Moscow invaded Ukraine. Moscow has denied this as the reasoning behind thousands of its troops being stationed on the border with Ukraine.

“To be clear, we do not know whether President Putin has made a decision about further military escalation in Ukraine. But we do know that he is putting in place the capacity to engage in such escalation, should he decide to do so,” the official told reporters in a phone call.

The official warned, again, that there would be “genuine, meaningful and enduring costs” if Russia decided to pursue a military escalation with Ukraine.

Washington would be prepared to “reinforce” NATO allies in the event that Russia invaded Ukraine, the official said, stopping short of committing to US military action.

“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.”

Asked how the US would respond if Russia asked for guarantees about the expansion of NATO, the US official said: “The United States has consistently expressed support for the principle that every country has the sovereign right to make its own decisions with respect to its security… That remains US policy today and will remain US policy in the future.”

The official said Biden would hold calls with European allies later Monday before his call with Putin. The US president will also discuss the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy before Secretary of State Antony Blinken discusses the call’s contents with Zeleknskiy after it concludes.

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