White House warns Moscow ahead of Biden call with Putin over Ukraine

An official said the U.S. will work with NATO to respond if Russia invades.

The White House did not mince words Monday about its message to Moscow ahead of the President Joe Biden's video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday: The U.S. is ready to support allies in the region if Russia decides to move forward with a military invasion 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," a senior administration official promised on a call with reporters. "That's just sort of applying the lessons of 2014 to 2021."

Notably, the official wouldn’t specify whether that "reassurance" would come in the form of sanctions, U.S. forces, capabilities, or all of the above, nor what the hair trigger is for the support.

"I'm not suggesting that today, we have a, particular, you know, tick tock on that, only to say that we are working through the prudent planning of what we would have to do in the event of such an escalation and how we would have to ensure the security of our NATO allies in that context. I would not go, I'm not saying anything further than that,” the official added.

The official wouldn’t go so far as to say outright that President Biden will warn President Putin the U.S. military could be used if the Russian military moves into Ukraine.

"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," the official said. "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, as opposed to a combination of support for the Ukrainian military, strong economic countermeasures, and substantial increase in support and capability to our NATO allies to ensure they remain safe."

In short: Biden will warn Putin there will be consequences for an invasion into Ukraine.

“Obviously President Biden will raise these concerns. He will make clear that there will be very real cost should Russia choose to proceed, but he will also make clear that there is an effective way forward with respect to diplomacy,” the SAO said.

The administration’s preferred option for response to any Russian aggression would be a series of economic sanctions in concert with European partners, and the SAO warned those would be "severe."

"We believe that we have a path forward that would involve substantial economic countermeasures by both the Europeans and the United States that would impose significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy, should they choose to proceed. I'm not going to get into the specific details of that, but we believe that there is a way forward here that will allow us to send a clear message to Russia, that there will be genuine and meaningful and enduring costs to choosing to go forward should they choose to go forward with a military escalation in Ukraine,” the official warned.

The official claimed the U.S. has no confirmation that Putin has issued an order to advance. But U.S. officials are seeing troop movements, and increased disinformation that attempts to portray Ukraine as the aggressor, concerning developments that also preceded the 2014 invasion of Crimea.

"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. And we have also seen as Secretary 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,” the official said.

Given the administration’s commitment to providing backup for allies, the official said Biden will speak with key European partners Monday to make sure he goes into the call with a foundation of solidarity.

Secretary Blinken will be speaking with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ahead of the Putin call, and President Biden will call Zelensky Tuesday to provide a readout of his conversation with Putin, the official told reporters.