U.S. and Europe ready ‘significant and severe’ sanctions if Russia invades Ukraine

The United States has coordinated with European allies ahead of President Joe Biden’s call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday on a package of financial sanctions that would impose “significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy” should Putin proceed with an invasion of Ukraine, according to a senior Biden administration official.

“We have had intensive discussions with our European partners about what we would do collectively in the event of a major Russian military escalation in Ukraine, and we believe that we have a path forward that would involve substantial economic countermeasures by both the Europeans and the United States,” the official said on Monday during a call organized by the National Security Council.

But the official downplayed the possibility of direct U.S. military involvement in the standoff on Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russia has mounted a troop buildup that has ignited international concern.

“I don’t want to use a public press call to talk about the particular sensitive challenges that President Biden will lay out for President Putin,” the official said. “But I would say that the United States is not seeking to end up in a circumstance in which the focus of our countermeasures is the direct use of American military force.”

A White House statement released later on Monday after Biden held a call with his European counterparts, however, did not mention sanctions. The statement said Biden and the leaders of Italy, France, Germany and Britain agreed that diplomacy “is the only way forward to resolve the conflict in Donbas through the implementation of the Minsk Agreements.” They also called on Russia to “de-escalate tensions” and “underscored their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to the statement.

A spokesperson for the U.K. government said Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed during the call that his country would “continue to use all the economic and diplomatic tools at its disposal to prevent any Russian aggression against Ukraine,” and that the European leaders planned to speak again with Biden after the talks Tuesday with Putin.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine on Monday, and the Biden administration official said the U.S. president planned to speak with Zelensky himself “in the days following” the call with Putin.

Blinken’s spokesperson said the secretary agreed with Zelensky on “the need for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the conflict” and the full restoration of “Ukrainian sovereignty over its internationally recognized borders, including Crimea.”

The threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine has ramped up over the past week, with the Washington Post first reporting last Friday that U.S. intelligence officials suspect Moscow is planning a multi-front offensive involving up to 175,000 troops that could take place as soon as early next year.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have escalated their warnings that Washington will retaliate if Moscow moves its forces across the border into Ukraine, as it previously did in 2014.

Blinken, speaking last Wednesday at the conclusion of a North Atlantic Treaty Alliance meeting in Latvia, cautioned that the United States is “prepared to impose severe costs for further Russian aggression in Ukraine.”

“We’ve made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past,” Blinken said.

Last Thursday, Blinken met face-to-face with his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe last Thursday in Sweden.

Following that session, Blinken told reporters at a news conference that he “made very clear our deep concerns and our resolve to hold Russia responsible for its actions, including our commitment to work with European allies to impose severe…

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