Biden-Putin call: Analysts say US president may still have a chance to derail Ukraine invasion

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With a massive Russian troop build near the Ukrainian border, Russia’s Vladimir Putin is indicating a willingness to risk military conflict, but analysts say while the threat is serious, an invasion is not certain.

The threat of an invasion will be the focus of President Biden’s video call with Putin on Tuesday. Biden is expected to warn of dire consequences if Russia pursues a military offensive, while Putin is expected to reiterate his ultimatum that NATO should not allow Ukraine to join its military alliance.

The outcome of the video call could have major implications as Putin assesses the potential costs of a full-blown invasion of Ukraine. Jim Townsend, a former Pentagon official and deputy senior fellow with the CNAS Transatlantic Security Program, said Putin is an “opportunist” who sees an invasion as one of many potential avenues to achieve his goals in the region.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a video conference call to address attendees at a United Russia party congress marking the 20th anniversary of the party’s founding, in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. (Mikhail Metzel, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

“If he feels the West’s response won’t be as painful as we think, then he has the opportunity to invade,” Townsend said. “But if he receives indications from the West that he will be fine [something] that he finds valuable, it might also change his mind.”

US intelligence officials conclude that Russia is planning a military offensive as early as early next year. A senior administration official said Russia’s plan includes 100 battalion battlegroups and about 175,000 troops, half of whom are already near the border. Intelligence officials have also noted an increase in Russian propaganda aimed at denigrating NATO and the Ukrainian government.

The maneuvers have fueled fears that Russia could attempt a takeover such as its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Russian troops have supported separatist forces on the Ukrainian border for years, although the Kremlin has long denied any direct involvement in this conflict.

“The forces deployed and the areas in which they are deployed, as well as other indications – night maneuvers, etc. – clearly suggest that Russia is taking measures that would allow invasion,” said Ivo Daalder, who served as US Ambassador to NATO from 2009 to 2013. “And the rhetoric coming from Moscow, and especially Putin, about red lines and that the status quo is unacceptable is also a source of real concern.”

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive to meet at 'Villa la Grange' in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File Pool)

President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive to meet at ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File Pool)

Putin said last week that Russia would view any effort by the United States or its allies to place weapons systems in Ukraine as a “red line” that would lead to retaliation. Meanwhile, Biden and NATO officials are adamant Russia has no influence over alliance operations.

Putin’s bet is “no longer about NATO membership”, according to Jeffrey Edmonds, former Russian director of the National Security Council and senior fellow at the NAC. He noted growing frustration in the Kremlin over NATO’s security assistance to Ukraine and the expansion of operations in the Black Sea.

“I don’t think he’s made the decision to invade yet, but I believe he’s pessimistic about getting the outcome he wants and that’s why this buildup is different,” he said. -he declares. “This is a prolonged buildup that the Kremlin has denied for a long time – not the kind of thing you do if your intention is just to report.”

Ahead of the video call, Biden said he planned to have a “long discussion” with Putin about Russia’s aggressive stance toward Ukraine. The president is expected to affirm US support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and warn of severe economic sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the debt ceiling during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in Washington.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the debt ceiling during an event in the State Dining Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021, in Washington.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The Biden administration is reportedly considering several options, including blocking Russia from the SWIFT international banking system — a move widely seen as the economic “nuclear option.” A senior administration official said Biden would also warn Putin that the United States would send troops to NATO countries in Eastern Europe.

“We’re in the final stages of being in a place where we can turn things around, which he’s doing. I think Biden will be very specific about what’s going to happen,” Townsend said. “I think it’s not just going to be about economic and financial sanctions. I hope he says something like ‘we’re going to rearm Europe’. I think he’s going to need to have a component military in there too.”

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A clear warning about the military costs of an invasion should be a key part of Biden’s message to Putin, according to Daalder.

“This is the only area where Biden can and should influence. It is important to stress that even with 175,000 troops, invading Ukraine will not be an easy affair,” he said. “Ukraine has 250,000 troops, most hardened by 7 years of conflict in eastern Ukraine. US and NATO training and arms supply have made the Ukrainian military more effective and deadly.”

Kevin E. Boling