(Headline USA) President Joe Biden is ready to warn Vladimir Putin during a video call 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.
One can assume, given Biden’s history with Ukraine, that his son, Hunter, won’t be allowed anywhere within shouting distance of the conversation. Biden was at the center of controversy for the role he played dealing with Ukraine as vice president during the Obama administration.
At the time, Hunter Biden had joined the board of a scandal-plagued Ukrainian natural gas company named Burisma, despite having no qualifications for the job except that his father was the vice president and involved in the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy.
Credible concerns were raised that Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire its top prosecutor who was investigating Burisma as a way to protect his son. Democrats and leftist media, naturally, wrote it all off as Russian disinformation.
Now Biden is trying to talk tough on Ukraine, saying he 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.
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 mouthpiece Jen Psaki 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.”
In Texas, they’d call it ‘all hat and no cattle’ given Biden’s waffling reputation.
The leader-to-leader conversation — Biden speaking from the Situation Room, Putin from Moscow — 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.
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 Obama on the international stage — looms large as Biden looks at the current crisis.
The Obama/Biden administration talked tough about economic sanctions and isolation of Russia for its annexation of Ukraine, all of which evaporated into thin air and left Putin with a decidedly upper hand.
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 for ineffectively 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 said in a Newsmax interview 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 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 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 himself 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 himself 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 as well, including cyberattacks and human rights. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said U.S.-Russian relations are overall in “a rather dire state.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press