US President Joe Biden speaks on the phone to his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office
US President Joe Biden phoned the president of Ukraine on Thursday ahead of calls to nine eastern European NATO allies, promising support if Russia attacks Ukraine, as well as severe economic sanctions against Moscow.
There was no immediate readout from the White House or Kiev after Biden talked to President Volodymyr Zelensky, ahead of calling the heads of the nine other countries. Reporters could see the US leader through a window of the Oval Office on the phone.
Western and Ukrainian officials say they fear Russia — which already seized Ukraine’s entire Crimea region in 2014 and backs a large-scale separatist force in the east — is preparing an even larger scale invasion.
But Biden warned Putin in a two-hour video call Tuesday that Russia would face economic sanctions “like none he’s ever seen” if the troops do attack.
Thursday’s calls switched focus to countries right on the frontline of the power struggle between the West and Russia over territory once entirely under Soviet control.
– No troops for Ukraine –
Still, the United States helps train Ukrainian forces and has committed more than $2.5 billion to bolster a military that crumpled in the face of the Russian assault in 2014.
The US president says the possibility of sending American troops into Ukraine’s fight is “not on the table.” But when it comes to the nine eastern flank NATO countries, Biden is promising the opposite.
Biden and European leaders are also talking up their willingness to impose harsh economic penalties on Moscow over any further Russian attack.
– Russian demands –
And the Kremlin says any eventual stationing of offensive US weaponry, like missiles, in Ukraine would cross a red line.
However, Biden did say that negotiators were looking at “whether or not we could work out any accommodations as it relates to bringing down the temperature along the eastern front.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine held this week new ceasefire talks, focusing on ending fighting, releasing detainees and reopening travel in the disputed eastern regions.
“Especially now, before the Christmas and New Year holidays, this is very important from the humanitarian point of view,” Zelensky said Wednesday.
Originally published as Biden to give Ukraine, eastern Europeans reassurance over Russia