National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Tuesday that the United States is prepared to deploy more troops to NATO countries if Russia invades Ukraine.
After Tuesday morning’s call between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which mainly focused on Ukraine, Sullivan appeared in the White House briefing room and was asked directly if sending more U.S. troops was on the table.
Sullivan answered that if there was a ‘military escalation’ into Ukraine by Russia, the U.S. expected that Baltic allies including Romania, Poland and others, to be increasingly concerned about their own security.
‘They will be seeking, we expect, additional capabilities and potentially additional deployments and the United States will be looking to respond positively to those things in the event that there is a further incursion into Ukraine,’ Sullivan answered.
Sullivan also made clear that the U.S. planned to respond more forcefully than the Obama administration did in 2014, when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
‘I will look you into the eye and tell you, as President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today that things we did not do in 2014 we are prepared to do now,’ Sullivan told reporters.
‘In terms of specifics, we would prefer to communicate that directly to the Russians, to not negotiate in public, to not telegraph our punches,’ Sullivan continued. ‘But we are laying out for the Russian, in some detail, the types of measures that we have in mind.’
Earlier, Biden was seen waving to Putin and chuckling during what was supposed to be a tense video call on Tuesday morning.
But the White House said Biden gave tough talk to his Russian counterpart in their two-hour conversation and made it clear any invasion of Ukraine would be met with ‘strong’ economic sanctions and ‘other measures.’
During the video chat, 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 in a readout of the call.
‘President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy,’ the White House noted. There will be follow up conversations on the staff level.
Russian news agencies released video of the first few minutes of the call.
In it, Biden is seen experiencing some technical difficulties, apparently forgetting to switch his microphone on.
‘Greetings Mr. President,’ Putin said to Biden in Russian.
There was silence on the other end and then Biden was seen leaning forward and flipping a button.
‘There you go,’ Biden said, suddenly audible.
‘Hello,’ he added, chuckling and waving to his Russian counterpart. ‘It’s good to see you again.’
Biden was also heard telling Putin during another short clip from there chat: ‘We didn’t get to see one another at the G20. I hope the next time we meet we do it in person.’
The call started at 10:07 am ET, according to the White House. American press were not allowed to view the conversation. It ended at 12:08 pm the White House said.
After the call ended, the White House released a photo of Biden in the White House Situation Room.
‘[email protected] held a secure video call with President Putin of Russia today to discuss a range of topics in the U.S.-Russia relationship, including our concerns about Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine, cyber, and regional issues,’ the White House said in the tweet.
In the White House photo, Biden is seen maskless at the head of a table, with a masked Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on the sidelines.
Putin was on the call from his residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. It’s the fourth direct conversation between the two leaders this year, following two calls and one summit in Geneva.
After the conversation with Putin, Biden will speak with President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Mario Minister Draghi of Italy, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, according to the White House.
‘On their call yesterday, the leaders agreed to stay in close touch on a coordinated and comprehensive approach in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,’ the White House said.
The president is also expected to call Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky after he speaks to the Russian leader.
Tuesday’s call with Putin is one of the biggest tests of Biden’s diplomatic skills to date as he tries to head off a Russian attack that could lead to additional US troops being deployed to Eastern Europe to support NATO allies against an aggressive threat from the Kremlin.
Putin, meanwhile, has complained that Ukraine poses a threat to Russia because of its relationship with the US and Western Europe.
After the call with Putin ended, the White House released its own photo of the virtual conversation
The Russians released a photo of President Biden’s secure video call with Vladimir Putin
President Biden waves to President Putin and told him he hopes they can meet in person next time
White House Readout of Biden call with Putin
President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. held a secure video call today with President Vladimir Putin of Russia to discuss a range of issues on the U.S.-Russia agenda. 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. President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy. The two presidents tasked their teams to follow up, and the U.S. will do so in close coordination with allies and partners. The presidents also discussed the U.S.-Russia dialogue on Strategic Stability, a separate dialogue on ransomware, as well as joint work on regional issues such as Iran.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that Moscow regretted what he called the White House’s predictable tendency to resort to sanctions, but said that Putin was ready to hear out Biden’s concerns and that the Kremlin leader wanted to set out his own.
‘We’re looking for good, predictable relations with the United States. Russia has never intended to attack anyone, but we have our concerns and we have our red lines,’ he said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has warned of a ‘bloody massacre’ and five million Ukrainian refugees fleeing into Europe if Russia decides to invade Kiev.
Satellite images show increasing numbers of Russian troops massing on the border of Ukraine – as many as 175,000 according to US analysts.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told CNN there would be a ‘really bloody massacre’ if Russia invaded Ukraine and warned that ‘Russian guys also will come back in coffins’.
A White House spokesman said Monday evening that Biden had spoken to the leaders of France, the UK, Germany and Italy, and they discussed ‘their shared concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric.’
The White House said: ‘The leaders underscored their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.’
Ahead of the conversation, the administration made it clear Biden would take a tough stance with Russia.
Biden was expected to threaten Putin with ‘substantial economic’ sanctions should he invade Ukraine. They’re likely to be similar to the economic sanctions imposed on Iran over its attempts to develop a nuclear weapon.
The moves under consideration will ‘impose significant and severe harm on the Russian economy’ – options include cutting Russia off from global financial systems, in the same way that Iran was isolated for failing to comply with the nuclear deal.
That could include targeting Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert roubles into dollars and other currencies, a source told Reuters.
Biden also warned of ‘additional forces and capabilities’ being deployed to the region, if Putin does invade.
Joe Biden, seen on Monday, will speak on Tuesday by telephone to Vladimir Putin
Reservists from Russia’s Combat Army Reserve perform firing exercises as part of a training camp at Prudboy firing range near Volgograd
Reservists from Russia’s Combat Army Reserve perform firing exercises as part of a training camp at Prudboy firing range near Volgograd, a city in southwest Russia
Ukrainian servicemen and military machinery taking part in the Day of the Armed Forces of Ukraine celebration in Kharkiv on Monday
Biden and Putin met in Geneva in June – the first meeting of the pair since Biden took over the White House. They will speak by phone on Tuesday
The official noted the US was ready to show a ‘combination of support for the Ukrainian military, strong economic countermeasures, and the substantial increase in support and capability to our NATO allies’ if Moscow moved forward with an attack.
The official briefed reporters on the situation in the Ukraine ahead of Biden‘s call with Putin on Tuesday.
Taking a tough tone ahead of the conversation between the two leaders, the official noted that the U.S. and Europeans are prepared to place ‘substantial economic’ sanctions on Russia should Putin invade the Ukraine – a message President Biden will send during the virtual talk with his Russian counterpart.
While the official wouldn’t commit to the United States putting boots on the ground in the Ukraine to help President Volodymyr Zelensky, the person did say that in the event of an invasion, the US would offer reassurance to NATO allies with additional forces.
‘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. We’ve seen this Russian playbook before in 2014 when Russia last invaded Ukraine,’ the senior administration official said.
‘We have seen the movement of additional capabilities and forces to the vicinity of Ukraine in multiple different areas. And these movements are consistent with the planning that we see underway for a military escalation in Ukraine,’ the official added.
The official added that Russia could still choose a ‘different course’ and the Biden administration is encouraging Moscow to ‘return to dialogue through diplomatic avenues.
The administration has been lining up its European allies for backup.
On Monday night, the White House said: ‘Today, President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy, Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom, and President Biden of the United States held a call.
‘The leaders discussed their shared concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric.
‘They called on Russia to de-escalate tensions and agreed that diplomacy, especially through the Normandy Format, is the only way forward to resolve the conflict in Donbas through the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.
‘The leaders underscored their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
‘They agreed that their teams will stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a coordinated and comprehensive approach.’
The situation in the Ukraine is expected to be the dominate topic of Biden and Putin’s conversation, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.
‘It’s also an opportunity to discuss a range of topics in the US and Russia relationship including strategic stability, cyber and regional issues, but you can certainly expect that the our concerns about the military activities on the border will be a prominent part of the discussion,’ she said at her press briefing of the Tuesday call.
Troops are seen on Monday in Ukraine, taking part in the Day of the Armed Forces celebrations in Kharkiv
Ukraine’s flag flies as President Zelensky salutes the troops in Kharkiv on Monday
‘I think our objective from the beginning of the president’s time in office has not been to escalate the relationship but has been to move to a more stable footing in the relationship,’ she noted.
But, she added, ‘the president is not going to hold back on conveying his concern.’
She also indicated there would be a US military response if Russia invaded, pointing back to the 2014 Russian invasion of the Crimea.
‘If you look back at 2014, that one of the outcomes here, if they were to decide to move forward is that the other countries in the eastern flank, in many of them NATO partners, will be looking for reassurance from the United States. That’s something that was a follow up to 2014. I’m not sure that is what Russia wants to see. But that would be a natural consequence if they were to move forward as well,’ she said.
Psaki pushed back on questions whether Biden’s diplomatic talk with Putin could be effective in staving off an invasion – an approach that didn’t work in 2014 when Russia took the Crimea.
‘We will see if they are but our objective first and foremost is to prevent the move forward the military progression that we saw happen in 2014,’ she said.
‘It’s not about threats,’ she said of the upcoming call. ‘It’s about conveying the right path forward here is through diplomacy.’
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, right, awards a soldier in a trench as he visits the war-hit Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on Monday
This handout satellite image released by Maxar Technologies and taken on November 1, 2021 shows the presence of a large ground forces deployment on the northern edge of the town of Yelnya, Smolensk Oblast, Russia
U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and the action has resulted in comparisons being made to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
Ahead of Biden and Putin’s conversation, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke with Zelensky.
Zelensky said he and Blinken agreed to continue ‘joint and concerted action.’
‘Agreed to continue joint & concerted action. Grateful to U.S. strategic partners & allies for the continued support of our sovereignty & territorial integrity. Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine,’ Zelensky wrote on twitter.
The U.S. will also back its NATO allies in the region, the official said.
Zelensky has pushed to get the Ukraine made a member of the alliance, but that has not happened yet.
The State Department also made it clear the US would counter any Russian aggression to the Ukraine.
‘If Russia chooses to move forward with any plans it may have developed to continue its military aggression or to aggress militarily upon Ukraine to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty, its independence, its territorial integrity we and our allies would be prepared to act we would be prepared to act resolutely,’ said spokesman Ned Price.
‘There should be no ambiguity about our willingness to do this. And we have made that very clear in public and in private at every turn,’ he added.
The senior administration official hinted at a U.S. deployment to Eastern Europe if Russia invades, saying there would be ‘a positive response from the United States for additional forces and capabilities and exercises to take place to ensure the safety and security of our of our eastern flank allies in the face of that kind of aggression in Ukraine.’
‘I think you could anticipate that in the event of an invasion, the need to reinforce the confidence and reassurance of our NATO allies and our eastern flank allies would be real, and the United States would be prepared to provide that kind of reassurance,’ the official said.
Tuesday’s call comes after a report on Friday suggested that Russia is planning a possible military offensive against Ukraine involving an estimated 175,000 troops that could begin as soon as early 2022.
An unclassified intelligence document, obtained by The Washington Post, showed satellite images of troop and equipment build up around the border with Ukraine.
Photos taken in June around Yelnya, near the northern border between Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, showed empty land. By November 9, five Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) were in place, the photos showed.
In 2014, similar scenes were replicated along the Russian-Ukrainian border near Crimea before Russia seized the strategic port on the Black Sea.
‘The Russian plans call for a military offensive against Ukraine as soon as early 2022 with a scale of forces twice what we saw this past spring during Russia’s snap exercise near Ukraine’s borders,’ an administration official told the paper.
Ukraine warns there are now some 94,000 Russian soldiers near its border, where it has been fighting a years-long insurgency in its eastern regions by Russian-backed separatists
‘The plans involve extensive movement of 100 battalion tactical groups with an estimated 175,000 personnel, along with armor, artillery and equipment.’
Ukrainian assessments have said Russia has approximately 94,000 troops near the border, but the U.S. believes the figure is closer to 70,000.
However, US officials expect an increase to 175,000, and warn that there will likely be significant movement of battalion tactical groups to and from the border ‘to obfuscate intentions and to create uncertainty.’
‘Equipment may be left behind at different training ranges to enable a rapid, final buildup,’ the document adds.
Leaving the White House for Camp David, Biden said: ‘We’ve been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is we’re going to have a long discussion.’
Russian state media on Friday released footage of the military drills, including sniper training, taking place on the Ukrainian border
Russian soldiers have been pictured conducting sniper exercises, believed to involve 700 gunmen, with servicemen lying on the ground in snowy conditions
Russian military personnel were filmed training with rocket-propelled grenade launchers amid heightened tensions over the build up of more than 94,000 soldiers on the border with Ukraine
When asked if he accepts Putin’s red line – that Ukraine not join NATO – he said, ‘I won’t accept anybody’s red line.’
Putin said this week that Russia needs ‘precise legal, judicial guarantees because our Western colleagues have failed to deliver on verbal commitments they made.’
He said a concrete agreement must ‘rule out any further eastward expansion of NATO and the deployment of weapons systems posing a threat to us in close proximity to Russia’s territory.’
On Thursday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken met his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
Blinken warned Moscow of the ‘severe costs’ Russia would pay if it invaded Ukraine, urging his Russian counterpart on Thursday to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis.
Anthony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, is seen meeting Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, in Stockholm on Thursday
Blinken delivered the warning to the Russian Foreign Minister at what he called a ‘candid’ meeting in Stockholm, and said it was likely that Biden and Vladimir Putin would speak soon.
‘I made very clear our deep concerns and our resolve to hold Russia responsible for its actions, including our commitment to work with European allies to impose severe costs and consequences on Russia if it takes further aggressive action against Ukraine,’ Blinken told a news conference after the meeting.
‘It’s now on Russia to de-escalate the current tensions by reversing the recent troop buildup, returning forces to normal peacetime positions and refraining from further intimidation and attempts to destabilize Ukraine.’
Lavrov, speaking to reporters before his talks with Blinken, said Moscow was ready for dialogue with Kyiv.
‘We, as President Putin has stated, do not want any conflicts,’ he said.
Blinken, before the meeting, stated: ‘We don’t know whether President Putin has made the decision to invade.
‘We do know that he is putting in place the capacity to do so on short order should he so decide.
‘We must prepare for all contingencies.’
The new intelligence finding, published on Friday, estimates that half of the Russian personnel are already deployed along various points near Ukraine’s border, according to a Biden administration official who spoke to Associated Press.
Russian and Belarusian troops take part in the Zapad-2021 military exercise in the Brest region of Belarus on September 14
A Belarus and Russian joint tactical group of Su-30SM fighters patrols the Belarussian borders with NATO countries on November 30
The Novorossiysk (L) and Caesar Kunikov large landing ships take part in an exercise in amphibious landing on an unimproved shore in Crimea in October
The Saratov large landing ship and Mil Mi-8AMTSh helicopters are seen during the Crimea exercises, in October
An air assault group lands during an exercise in amphibious landing in Crimea in October
Russia has picked up its demands on Biden to guarantee that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the NATO alliance.
Intelligence officials also have seen an uptick in Russian information operations’ use of proxies and media outlets to denigrate Ukraine and NATO ahead of a potential invasion, the official said.
Earlier on Friday, Biden pledged to make it ‘very, very difficult’ for Putin to take military action in Ukraine.
He said new initiatives coming from his administration are intended to deter Russian aggression.
‘What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be will be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do,’ Biden told reporters.
The Kremlin said on Friday that Putin would seek binding guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine during the call with Biden.
The Ukrainian defense minister went even further, warning that Russia could invade his country next month
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers on Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russian-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, warning that a ‘large-scale escalation’ is possible in January.
A Ukrainian government official told the Post that military exercises earlier this year were seen as a rehearsal for an invasion.
‘The Russian troops worked out the issues of creating strike groups near the borders of our state, mobilization measures, logistical support of groups, [and] transfer of significant military contingents, including by air,’ from Russia to the border with Ukraine, the official said.
U.S.-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.
In addition to the Ukraine issue, the Biden administration has levied sanctions against Russian targets and called out President Vladimir Putin on Kremlin interference in U.S. elections, cyberactivity against U.S. businesses, and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and then later imprisoned.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers on Friday that intelligence from the border shows ‘the possibility of a large-scale escalation from Russia exists’
Putin and Biden met face to face in Geneva in June, with the U.S. president warning if Russia crossed certain red lines – including going after major American infrastructure – his administration would respond and ‘the consequences of that would be devastating.’
Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy have also tentatively agreed to have a call next week, according to a person close to the Ukrainian president.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said administration officials have ‘engaged in the possibility’ of a Biden-Putin call.
‘It certainly would be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the bellicose rhetoric, about the military buildup that we’re seeing on the border of Ukraine,’ Psaki said of a potential Biden-Putin call.
Biden did not detail what actions he was weighing.
But Lavrov has threatened new sanctions in response to any U.S. action.
‘If the new ‘sanctions from hell’ come, we will respond,’ Lavrov said.
‘We can’t fail to respond.’
Psaki said on Friday that the administration would look to coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions.
She noted that bitter memories of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954, are front of mind as the White House considers the way forward.
‘We know what President Putin has done in the past,’ Psaki said.
‘We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.’
Deep differences were on display during the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, with the Russia official charging the West was ‘playing with fire’ by denying Russia a say in any further NATO expansion into countries of the former Soviet Union.
Zelenskyy has pushed for Ukraine to join the alliance, which holds out the promise of membership but has not set a a timeline.
Blinken this week said the U.S. has ‘made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past.’
He did not detail what sanctions were being weighed, but one potentially could be to cut off Russia from the SWIFT system of international payments.
The European Union’s Parliament approved a non-binding resolution in April to cut off Russia from SWIFT if its troops entered Ukraine.
Such a move would go far toward blocking Russian businesses from the global financial system.
Western allies reportedly considered such a step in 2014 and 2015, during earlier Russian-led escalations of tensions over Ukraine.
Then-Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it would be tantamount to ‘a declaration of war.’