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Biden warns Putin he'll face tough sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine

President Biden meets virtually with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
Adam Schultz
Adam Schultz/The White House via AP
President Biden meets virtually with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

Updated December 7, 2021 at 6:45 PM ET

President Biden on Tuesday held a two-hour-long video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and warned him that if he decides to invade Ukraine, the United States and European allies are ready to make Moscow pay.

It's estimated nearly 100,000 Russian troops have been amassed at Russia's border with Ukraine, prompting fears that Russia is preparing to launch a military invasion — as it did in 2014, when it annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Biden is deeply concerned about the military buildup around Ukraine, his national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told White House reporters Tuesday. If Russia invades, the Biden administration would impose "strong economic measures," send military materiel to Ukraine, and beef up military support for NATO allies like the Baltics, Romania and Poland, Sullivan said.

"I will look you in the eye and tell you — as 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," Sullivan said.

Sullivan declined to give details on what kind of economic sanctions were under consideration.

But he said one item he sees as "leverage for the West" is the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline. "If Vladimir Putin wants to see gas flow through that pipeline, he may not want to take the risk of invading Ukraine," Sullivan said, adding discussions about Nord Stream 2 are the "utmost priority."

Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services panel, released a statement after a classified briefing by Pentagon officials on the situation in Ukraine. He said he couldn't give specifics but indicated that the buildup on the border is "far different than before because it looks like Putin is preparing to actually invade Ukraine."

Inhofe criticized the president's call with Putin, saying Biden "smiled and waved at Putin like he's an old friend—but didn't say anything about meaningful consequences for their aggressive behavior." He said sanctions weren't enough and the U.S. should send emergency military assistance to Ukraine that should include both weapons and cyber and intelligence sharing with allies so they can assist in the effort to respond to the latest escalation.

Sullivan said Biden was "direct and straightforward with Putin," and said there was a lot of give and take between the two leaders but "no finger wagging."

"We still do not believe Putin has made a decision" about whether to invade, Sullivan said, adding that Biden laid out "very clearly the consequences if he decides to move."

Sullivan said Biden laid out an "alternative path" for Putin involving diplomacy and peaceful negotiation.

"I will say that formal agreements or formal treaties were not on the table in the conversation today," Sullivan said. "But the straightforward notion that the United States flanked by our European allies and partners would be prepared to talk to Russia, about the strategic issues in the European theater — that was on the table."

After his call with Putin, Biden also spoke with the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. The president also plans to brief congressional leaders and speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C, co-chairs of the Senate NATO observer group, also said in a joint statement after the briefing they were worried about a Russian invasion of Ukraine. "Make no mistake that any attack on a European partner will be met with a strong and robust response against Putin and his regime, including severe economic sanctions," Shaheen and Tillis said.

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NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.