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Biden to Warn Putin of Economic Pain   12/07 06:11

   President Joe Biden is ready to warn Vladimir Putin during a video call 
Tuesday that Russia will face economy-jarring sanctions if it invades 
neighboring Ukraine as the U.S. president seeks a diplomatic solution to deal 
with the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed near the Ukraine border.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden is ready to warn Vladimir Putin 
during a video call Tuesday that Russia will face economy-jarring sanctions if 
it invades neighboring Ukraine as the U.S. president seeks a diplomatic 
solution to deal with the tens of thousands of Russian troops massed near the 
Ukraine border.

   Biden aims to make clear that his administration stands ready to take 
actions against the Kremlin that would exact "a very real cost" on the Russian 
economy, according to White House officials. Putin, for his part, is expected 
to demand guarantees from Biden that the NATO military alliance will never 
expand to include Ukraine, which has long sought membership. That's a 
non-starter for the Americans and their NATO allies.

   "We've consulted significantly with our allies and believe we have a path 
forward that would impose significant and severe harm on the Russian economy," 
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday in previewing the meeting. 
"You can call that a threat. You can call that a fact. You can call that 
preparation. You can call it whatever you want to call it."

   The leader-to-leader conversation -- Biden speaking from the Situation Room, 
Putin from his residence in Sochi -- is expected to be one of the toughest of 
Biden's presidency and comes at a perilous time. U.S. intelligence officials 
have determined that Russia has massed 70,000 troops near the Ukraine border 
and has made preparations for a possible invasion early next year.

   The U.S. has not determined whether Putin has made a final decision to 
invade. Still, Biden intends to make clear to the Russian leader that there 
will be a "very real cost" should Russia proceed with military action, 
according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the 
condition of anonymity.

   Biden was vice president in 2014 when Russian troops marched into the Black 
Sea peninsula of Crimea and annexed the territory from Ukraine. Aides say the 
Crimea episode -- one of the darker moments for former President Barack Obama 
on the international stage -- looms large as Biden looks at the current 
smoldering crisis.

   The eastward expansion of NATO has from the start been a bone of contention 
not just with Moscow but also in Washington. In 1996, when President Bill 
Clinton's national security team debated the timing of membership invitations 
to former Soviet allies Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, Defense 
Secretary William Perry urged delay to keep Russian relations on track. Perry 
wrote in his memoir that when he lost the internal debate he considered 
resigning.

   Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were formally invited in 1997 and 
joined in 1999. They were followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, 
Slovenia and the former Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since 
then, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia have joined, bringing 
NATO's total to 30 nations.

   A key principle of the NATO alliance is that membership is open to any 
qualifying country. And no outsider has membership veto power. While there's 
little prospect that Ukraine would be invited into the alliance anytime soon, 
the U.S. and its allies won't rule it out.

   In Washington, Republicans are framing this moment as a key test of Biden's 
leadership on the global stage.

   Biden vowed as a candidate to reassert American leadership after President 
Donald Trump's emphasis on an "America first" foreign policy. But Biden has 
faced fierce criticism from Republicans who say that he's been ineffective in 
slowing Iran's march toward becoming a nuclear power and that the Biden 
administration has done too little to counter autocratic leaders like China's 
Xi Jinping, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Putin.

   "Fellow authoritarians in Beijing and Tehran will be watching how the free 
world responds," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "And President 
Biden has an opportunity to set the tone when he speaks with Putin."

   Trump, who showed unusual deference to Putin during his presidency, said in 
a Newsmax interview on Monday that the Biden-Putin conversation would not be a 
"fair match," describing it as tantamount to the six-time Super Bowl champion 
New England Patriots facing a high school football team.

   Ahead of the Putin call, Biden on Monday spoke with leaders of the United 
Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy to coordinate messaging and potential 
sanctions.

   The White House said in a statement that the leaders called on Russia to 
"de-escalate tensions" and agreed that diplomacy "is the only way forward to 
resolve the conflict."

   Ahead of the Biden-Putin faceoff, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on 
Monday spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

   Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he and Blinken "agreed to continue joint & 
concerted action" and expressed his gratitude for the U.S. and allies providing 
"continued support of our sovereignty & territorial integrity." Biden is 
expected to speak with Zelenskyy later this week.

   State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Blinken "reiterated the 
United States' unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty, independence, and 
territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression."

   The Kremlin has made clear that Putin planned to seek binding guarantees 
from Biden precluding NATO's expansion to Ukraine. Biden and aides have 
indicated no such guarantee is likely, with the president saying he "won't 
accept anyone's red line."

   Psaki stressed "NATO member countries decide who is a member of NATO, not 
Russia. And that is how the process has always been and how it will proceed."

   Still, Putin sees this as a moment to readjust the power dynamic of the 
U.S.-Russia relationship.

   "It is about fundamental principles established 30 years ago for the 
relations between Russia and the West," said Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading 
Moscow-based foreign policy expert. "Russia demands to revise these principles, 
the West says there's no grounds for that. So, it's impossible to come to an 
agreement just like that."

   Beyond Ukraine, there are plenty of other thorny issues on the table, 
including cyberattacks and human rights. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said 
U.S.-Russian relations are overall in "a rather dire state."

   Both the White House and the Kremlin sought in advance to lower expectations 
for the call. Both sides said they didn't expect any breakthroughs on Ukraine 
or the other issues up for discussion, but that just the conversation itself 
will be progress.

   Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Tuesday that "obviously, 
if the two presidents decided to have a conversation, they intend to discuss 
issues and don't mean to bring matters to a dead end."

   "Putin has repeatedly said that we look for good, predictable relations with 
the U.S.," Peskov said. "Russia has never planned to attack anyone. But we have 
our own concerns, our own red lines -- the president spoke clearly about that. 
To that, Mr. Biden responded that he doesn't intend to accept any red lines. 
This issue will be discussed (during the call) as well."

   Peskov reiterated that breakthroughs shouldn't be expected on the 
Biden-Putin call and said that it will be a "working conversation during a very 
difficult period," when "escalation of tensions in Europe is off the scale, 
extraordinary," and requires "personal discussion on the highest level."

 
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