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Biden expected to offer warnings and alternatives in call with Putin

President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin.MANDEL NGAN/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

President Joe Biden is expected to offer a series of potential diplomatic off-ramps to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a video meeting Tuesday, but Biden will warn him that if he orders his forces to invade Ukraine, Western allies may move to cut Russia off from the international financial system, administration officials said.

The meeting, Biden’s most critical — and most likely his highest-stakes — leader-to-leader conversation since he took office more than 10 months ago, may set the course for Ukraine’s fate as a fully independent nation. In the month since Biden dispatched CIA Director William Burns to Moscow, Russian forces have encircled Ukraine on three sides and accelerated a cybercampaign and disinformation campaign to destabilize its government, according to American, European and intelligence officials.


The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Tuesday’s call.

Burns’ warnings to Putin appear to have been largely ignored, officials say. The official U.S. assessment is still that Putin has not decided to conduct a full-scale invasion, officials say. But Putin and Biden, officials say, come to Tuesday's conversation with very different agendas.

White House officials have been gaming out a series of scenarios with Biden, including that Putin comes with a series of demands that go well beyond the familiar one that Ukraine can never join NATO. They include a reorientation of Ukraine away from the West and back into Moscow’s orbit.

Biden must convince Putin that the administration’s commitment to Ukraine, which it has called “unshakable,” is deep enough to cause tremendous economic pain to Russia. Under discussion are steps as extreme as cutting off Russia’s access to the international financial settlement system and a series of restrictions on its banks such as those honed in the effort to sanction Iran.

The off-ramps appear to be variations on the Minsk agreements, reached between Ukraine and Russia after the Crimea invasion. Biden administration officials did not offer details of what kind of diplomatic process Biden will offer, but elements of that were hinted at by Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week in his visit to Europe.


That effort appeared to begin to convince Germany, among others, that a clear warning to Putin was needed. Biden plans to speak with the leaders of Ukraine and several European allies Monday, in an effort to keep a unified front.