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Biden to speak with NATO allies on Ukraine before Putin call

President Biden.Anna Moneymaker/Getty

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is set to consult by phone with European allies on Monday about Russia’s troop buildup on the Ukraine border, one day ahead of Biden’s highly anticipated video meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Officials from other leading NATO nations — the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy — were expected to be on Monday's call with Biden, who is looking to coordinate messaging and potential economic sanctions against Russia in response to the Ukraine situation.

Ukraine is likely to be the central focus of the Biden-Putin conversation, but the two also are expected to address cybersecurity, Iran's nuclear program and other issues of mutual concern.

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U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year, according to a Biden administration official who was not authorized to discuss that finding publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

A second administration official underscored that the U.S. has not determined whether Putin has made a final decision on a possible invasion. Still, Biden in Tuesday's call intends to make clear to the Russian leader that there will be a “very real cost” should Russia choose to proceed with military action, the official said.

Potential U.S. countermeasures include stiff economic sanctions, increased support for the Ukrainian military and bolstering of the military capability of NATO allies in the region, the official said.

Biden also is scheduled to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the coming days after his call with Putin, the administration official said.

The Kremlin said last week that Putin would seek binding guarantees from Biden precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine. Biden and aides have indicated no such guarantee is likely.

The risks for Putin of going through with an invasion could be significant.

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U.S. officials and former American diplomats say Ukraine’s military is better armed and prepared today than in the past, and that sanctions threatened by the West would do serious damage to the Russian economy.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, during his daily conference call with reporters, said Monday that U.S.-Russian relations are in “a rather dire state” but that the Kremlin looks forward to hearing what Biden has to say.

“I think President Putin will hear these proposals with great interest. And we will be able to see how much these (proposals) would be able to defuse tensions,” Peskov told Russia’s state TV station Channel One later on Monday.

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Litnova reported from Moscow.