WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden put Russian President Vladimir Putin on notice Tuesday that the United States and its allies are prepared to impose tough economic sanctions against Russia if Moscow escalates its aggression against Ukraine.
In a high-stakes video teleconference, Biden emphasized that he preferred a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine. But he warned that the U.S. would send additional defense resources to Ukraine above what it is already providing and would be looking to deploy additional forces to fortify its NATO allies in the area in response to a Russian incursion in Ukraine.
The two-hour discussion between the two leaders was "direct and straightforward," White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said.
"There was a lot of give and take," Sullivan told reporters after the call. "There was no finger-wagging, but the president was crystal clear about where the United States stands on all of these issues."
Video diplomacy: Biden to warn Putin against Ukraine invasion in high-stakes call
The video conference call between Biden and Putin came amid growing concern over U.S. intelligence reports of a buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, raising alarms that an invasion may be imminent.
The U.S. believes Putin still hasn't made a decision to invade Ukraine, Sullivan said, but officials have stressed that Russia is putting in place the capacity to pursue such escalation if he chooses to do so.
Sullivan declined to spell out what economic sanctions the U.S. and its allies might impose on Russia if Putin decides to invade Ukraine. But he said Biden made it clear that while he prefers a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the U.S. is serious about taking countermeasures should they be required.
Sullivan suggested those measures would be much more forceful than sanctions imposed in 2014 in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Russia from occupying Crimea.
"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," he said.
Sullivan would not confirm reports that the U.S. has an agreement with Germany’s incoming government to cut off the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a much-disputed underseas gas pipeline planned to run from Russia to Germany, if Russia escalates its conflict with Ukraine.
But, “if Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine,” he said.
A top U.S. envoy, Victoria Nuland, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that if Russia invaded, “our expectation is that the pipeline will be suspended."
Kremlin calls the talk 'candid'
The Kremlin, in its summary of the call, described the conversation between Biden and Putin as “candid and businesslike.”
“Putin emphasized that it’s wrong to put the responsibility on Russia, since it is NATO that has been making dangerous attempts to expand its presence on the Ukrainian territory and has been expanding its military potential near Russian borders,” the Kremlin said.
After the video call, Biden talked with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to update them on his conversation with Putin and consult with them on a way forward.
Biden plans to speak with congressional leaders about ways in which the administration and Congress can work together on a bipartisan basis to stand up for American interests and stand behind our friends and partners, Sullivan said.
Biden also plans to speak Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Sullivan said.
Pipeline as leverage is a 'critical development'
Andrew Weiss, an expert on U.S.-Russia relations, said the U.S. is “trying to strike the proper balance" in its dealings with Moscow.
While the White House threatens economic penalties if Russia pursues renewed military intervention against Ukraine, "at the same, time they’re being very careful not to suggest that the United States would intervene militarily," said Weiss, who oversees research on Russia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
By singling out Nord Stream 2 as possible leverage against Russia, the Biden administration made a new threat in its talks with Putin, said Alina Polyakova, president and chief executive officer of the Center of European Policy Analysis, a Washington think tank that focuses on energy, security and defense.
“We haven’t seen the administration say this previously,” said Polyakova, an expert in Russian political warfare. “This would be a critical development if the White House is actually willing to take this step.”
In 2014, the Obama administration – in which Biden served vice president – chose less-aggressive sanctions against Russia that were on the table following Putin’s invasion of Crimea.
This time, Polyakova said, repercussions could include disconnecting Russia from an international payment system that connects banks around the world, sanctions on the sovereign-debt markets or sanctions on certain business sectors such as Russian energy companies or banking institutions.
“We know there is a level-up here,” she said.
Michael Collins, Matthew Brown and Joey Garrison cover the White House. Follow Collins on Twitter @mcollinsNEWS, Brown @mrbrownsir and Garrison @joeygarrison.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden warns Putin of consequences of aggression against Ukraine