The White House said Thursday that Washington is keeping a keen eye on Moscow and remains committed to diplomacy during upcoming high-level talks. This comes amid increasingly heated rhetoric from Russia’s leader, who on Thursday accused U.S. and NATO allies of undermining his country as he continues to mass troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine.
“You expanded NATO to the east,” President Vladimir Putin said Thursday, during his customary marathon end-of-year press conference, where he also accused Western intelligence services of trying to break up the Russian federation by using terrorist groups. “Of course, we asked you not to do it, as you promised you wouldn’t.
“But we were told: ‘Where is this written on paper? It isn’t, so you can buzz off. We don’t give a damn about your concerns.’ This happened year after year, and every time we pushed back and tried to prevent something or express our concern, [we were told], ‘No, buzz off with your concerns, we’ll do as we please.’ ”
“Facts are a funny thing,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday, responding to reporters’ questions about Putin’s accusations. “And facts make clear that the only aggression we’re seeing at the border of Russia and Ukraine is the military buildup by the Russians and the bellicose rhetoric from the leader of Russia.”
Psaki said the U.S. will hold high-level talks with the Russian government in early January, but she did not give further details on when the talks may happen, where they will take place or who will be involved. Administration officials have declined to respond publicly to Moscow’s demands, which include that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and that the security alliance reduce its deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
“However Russia has chosen to handle things, we don’t plan to negotiate in public,” a senior administration official told reporters Thursday. “It does not strike us as constructive or the way that progress has been made in such diplomatic conversations in the past. We are not going to respond to every proposal or comment that is made, including from the Russian president.”
Earlier this month, U.S. President Joe Biden held a virtual call with Putin. During that call, the two men discussed the estimated 100,000 troops gathered on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited troops in the eastern Donetsk region earlier this month and said his forces are capable of fending off a Russian offensive.
Biden hosted Zelenskiy at the White House in September, and he assured him then that the U.S. was “firmly committed to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression.”
The White House also has made clear there will be “significant consequences” if Russia invades. These include harsh economic sanctions and increased security support for Ukraine.
“All that planning is well underway on our side, and we are ready to act if and when we need to,” the administration official said.
But does Putin plan to cross that border? Analyst Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute doesn’t think the Russian president does: For one thing, Kagan wrote, it would be “by far the largest, boldest and riskiest military operation Moscow has launched since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.”
“It would be a marked departure from the approaches Putin has relied on since 2015, and a major step-change in his willingness to use Russian conventional military power overtly,” he wrote, in an assessment published earlier this month. “It would cost Russia enormous sums of money and likely many thousands of casualties and destroyed vehicles and aircraft.”