President Biden has agreed to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming days on the condition that Russia does not move forward with an invasion of Ukraine, the White House announced late Sunday.
“As the President has repeatedly made clear, we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins,” press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will meet Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and Biden “accepted in principle a meeting with President Putin following that engagement, again, if an invasion hasn’t happened.”
“We are always ready for diplomacy. We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon,” Psaki said.
The White House and its allies have sought various diplomatic off-ramps to avoid a Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the potential Biden-Putin summit being the latest example. Still, Biden and Vice President Harris have each warned in recent days they believe Putin has decided to move forward with an invasion.
Biden met earlier Sunday with his national security council and spoke on the phone with French President Emmanuel Macron, who himself had spoken to Putin the same day to push for a diplomatic solution to avoid the threat of war in Europe.
Biden last spoke to Putin on Feb. 12, when the White House said Biden was clear that the U.S. and its allies “will respond decisively and impose swift and severe costs on Russia” if it invaded Ukraine.
The U.S. estimates Russia has amassed between 160,000 and 190,000 troops near the Ukrainian borders, and officials have warned for weeks that an invasion could begin any day.
Biden and other White House officials have promised to impose punishing sanctions on Russia should it move forward with an invasion, and the administration has warned of efforts by Moscow to create a pretext to justify sending troops into Ukraine.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials have already pushed back on claims from Moscow that Ukraine is threatening war with Russia, and they have attributed the shelling of a Ukrainian kindergarten classroom on Friday to Russian-backed separatists.
Harris met Saturday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Munich Security Conference to reiterate the administration’s support for Ukraine. Zelensky, in a speech at the conference, questioned why Western nations were waiting to impose sanctions on Russia while simultaneously warning of the imminent threat of an invasion.
“We don’t need your sanctions after the bombardment will happen and after our country will be fired at or after we will have no borders, or after we will have no economy … why would we need those sanctions then?” Zelensky told CNN.