President Biden said Friday that he had warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin that Moscow “cannot invade” Ukraine and that any attack would be met with “severe sanctions.”
“I made it clear to President Putin that we will have severe sanctions, we will increase our presence in Europe, with NATO allies,” the president told reporters after he and first lady Jill Biden left a restaurant in Wilmington, Del., where they had gone for a New Year’s Eve lunch.
Biden was also asked by reporters whether the US would respond with sanctions if Putin does not pull back the thousands of troops Russia has amassed along Ukraine’s eastern border.
“I’m not going to negotiate here in public,” he answered, “but we made it clear he cannot, I’ll emphasize, cannot, invade Ukraine.”
The two leaders spoke for 50 minutes by phone Thursday at Putin’s request. Biden said he got the sense from his Russian counterpart that Moscow has endorsed three meetings next month to discuss “security guarantees” that Russia is seeking from the US and its Western allies.
“He laid out some of his concerns about NATO and the United States and Europe, we laid out ours,” Biden said. “I made it clear that they only could work if in fact he deescalated, not escalated.”
Amid the buildup of Russian forces, Putin has demanded that the US and its European allies affirm that Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc states will not be allowed to become NATO members.
Discussions about those guarantees between officials from Washington and Moscow are expected to begin Jan. 10 in Geneva.
Earlier Friday, the White House announced that Biden would speak by phone Sunday with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to discuss the situation in eastern Europe.
According to a White House official, Biden will “reaffirm US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, discuss Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders, and review preparations for upcoming diplomatic engagements to help de-escalate the situation in the region.”
It will be the second phone conversation between the two leaders in less than a month.
Biden spoke with Zelensky for more than an hour on Dec. 9 about the increased tension between Moscow and Kiev.
Thursday’s conversation was the second between Biden and Putin this month. The two leaders also held a virtual summit Dec. 7 that lasted more than two hours.