WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the U.S. would pursue "strong economic and other measures" if Russia invades Ukraine.
During the 2 hour video call, Biden reiterated U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and called for a "de-escalation," the White House said in a statement. The two leaders discuss a range of other issues between the two countries, including nuclear security, ransomware, and Iran.
"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," the White House said in a statement.
With Putin moving more than 90,000 military troops to the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, administration officials have said they believe Russia could engage in military action, but are unclear whether Putin has decided to carry to do so.
Along with the military buildup, Russia has also been significantly ramping up a misinformation campaign to make Ukraine appear as the aggressor.
The standoff on the Ukrainian border could present Biden with his biggest foreign policy test since the chaotic U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in August that led to the Taliban regaining control of the country. Biden was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans for his handling of the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and his approval ratings declined in the aftermath.
As vice president, Biden was heavily involved in U.S. relations with Ukraine. At a time, Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. But as president, Biden has identified China, not Russia, as America's biggest national security threat and sought to increase his administration's focus on countering China's growing economic and military power.
Putin has remained atop Biden's foreign policy agenda though, first with a string of cyber attacks linked to Russian hackers and now with the increasing military aggression aimed at Ukraine.
Ahead of the call, a senior administration official said Biden would lay out a range of actions the U.S. and its European allies would take, including additional sanctions, should Russia invade Ukraine. Those countermeasures would cause "deep economic harm," the official said.
Tuesday’s call was the first between Biden and Putin since July. The two leaders met in person during a June summit. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy before the call, and Biden will talk to Zelenskyy in the days afterward, the official said.
Biden administration officials have declined to say whether the president would warn Putin about the possibility of direct military action against Russia if there is an invasion but said the focus is on using other diplomatic methods and avoiding a military conflict.
"The United States is not seeking to end up in a circumstance in which the focus of our countermeasures is directly from American military force as opposed to a combination of support for the Ukrainian military, strong economic countermeasures and the substantial increase in support and capability to our NATO allies," the official said.