President Biden doubled down on his threat to slap sanctions on Russia if the country doesn’t cool its tensions with Ukraine.
Mr. Biden told reporters Friday that the U.S. is willing to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin on his concerns about NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, if he agrees to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine. More than 100,000 Russian troops are massed along the Russia-Ukraine border.
“I made it clear to President Putin that if he – he makes any more moves and goes into Ukraine, we will have severe sanctions,” Mr. Biden said. “We will increase our – our presence in Europe with our NATO allies, and it will have to be a heavy price to pay for it.”
The president’s comments come the day after a 50-minute phone call between him and Mr. Putin in which neither man backed down from the escalating standoff.
Mr. Putin warned the president Thursday in response to his threat of sanctions that the U.S. would be making a “grave error.”
Mr. Putin wants a guarantee that any future expansion of NATO must exclude Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc countries and demands that the bloc remove offensive weaponry from countries near Russia.
“We will not allow our initiatives to be drowned in endless discussions,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the state RIA-Novosti news agency Friday. “If no constructive answer comes in a reasonable time and the West continues its aggressive course, Russia will have to take all necessary measures to maintain a strategic balance and remove unacceptable threats to our security.”
The Biden administration and NATO allies have made clear that the Russian demands are non-starters.
The U.S. and Russia are preparing for a series of high-stakes negotiations in January over Ukraine, NATO and security in Europe.
Mr. Biden’s national security team on Friday were preparing for the first set of talks, set for Jan. 9 and 10, to discuss the Russian troops on the border.
The Geneva talks, which are to be led on the U.S. side by senior State Department officials, are slated to be followed by Russia-NATO council talks and a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Mr. Biden is scheduled to speak by phone Sunday with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The two leaders plan to review preparations for the upcoming diplomatic engagements, according to the White House.
Asked if he expects more progress on negotiations after January, Mr. Biden responded with confidence, but not assurance.
“We’ll see,” he said.
• This article is based in part on wire-service reports.