US president Joe Biden warned Vladimir Putin that he would dispatch additional troops to allies in eastern Europe if Russia invaded Ukraine, in one of his sternest warnings yet about the fallout from military action by Moscow.
Speaking to reporters after remarks on the deadly tornadoes that battered the US, Biden said if Putin “moves on Ukraine” he would face “devastating” economic consequences. Washington and western allies are discussing a hefty package of economic and financial sanctions to punish Moscow in a more damaging way than they did when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014.
But Biden added that the US and Nato would also bolster the defence of B9 countries, a group of alliance members in central and eastern Europe who are most vulnerable to the security threat posed by Russia.
“We will find it required that we’ll have to send more American and Nato troops into the eastern flank, the B9, all those Nato countries where we have a sacred obligation to defend them against any attack by Russia,” Biden said.
The US has not indicated any appetite for deploying troops directly to Ukraine. But Biden said that Washington would “continue to provide for, and we have and continued to provide for the defence capacities for the Ukrainian people”.
The US president also suggested that Russia would pay “a terrible price” in terms of its image if it were to attack Ukraine.
Biden’s comments came after a week of tense negotiations over the fate of Ukraine, following warnings from the US that Putin was preparing to attack its neighbour with up to 175,000 troops. Biden held a two-hour call with Putin in which he warned the Russian leader against taking any action. But he opened the door to a negotiation and a possible “accommodation” with regards to Ukraine, unnerving some Nato allies in eastern Europe.
Since then, Russia has made a series of demands of the US, including that it curb any ambition to further expand Nato, which were dismissed by US administration officials.
“[Biden] stands by the proposition that countries should be able to freely choose who they associate with,” Jake Sullivan, the White House national security adviser told reporters.