President Joe Biden will speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy Thursday to discuss Russia’s military buildup on its border with Ukraine, according to the White House.
Afterward, Biden will call the leaders of the Bucharest Nine group, allies on the eastern flank of NATO, to brief them on his virtual meeting Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin and listen to their concerns.
The Bucharest Nine consists of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia.
Earlier Wednesday, Biden said he would not order the deployment of American troops to Ukraine to counter a possible Russian invasion of that country.
“That is not on the table,” Biden told reporters on the White House South Lawn. “The idea the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now. But what will happen is there will be severe consequences that will happen.”
Biden’s remarks came one day after meeting virtually for two hours with Putin. Following that meeting, he said the United States and its European allies have “deep concerns” about Moscow massing troops near the border it shares with Ukraine and would respond with “strong” economic sanctions if Russia invaded the country.
But even without the prospect of sending in U.S. troops, top White House and Pentagon officials insisted Wednesday there are still ways Washington could bolster Kyiv’s defense.
“There are options to expand security assistance to assist in Ukraine's self-defense,” Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told a virtual security summit, pointing to the ongoing provision of ammunition, Javelin anti-tank systems, counter mortar radar and other capabilities.
Biden approved an additional $60 million in security assistance to Ukraine in late August, in advance of a meeting with Ukraine’s president at the White House.
“The final elements of that will be arriving in Ukraine this week,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters at the Pentagon, adding that assistance in that package included small arms and ammunition.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan further defended the administration’s assistance.
"What it means to be proactive is to set the table," Sullivan told the summit. "We have gone above and beyond what any administration has done in terms of providing the kinds of defensive support to the Ukrainian military well in advance of any contingency that might happen.”
"We are working with them across the board and that does include the kinds of anti-armor, defensive weaponry that is central to their planning for how they would try to resist a substantial incursion,” he said.
The U.S. president also said Wednesday, before leaving for Kansas City to tout his new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, he hoped to announce meetings “at a higher level” with Russia and other NATO countries by Friday.
According to the Kremlin, Putin emphasized to Biden the lack of progress by Ukraine in implementing the 2015 Minsk agreement, which was meant to stop the fighting in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, and he raised "serious concerns about the provocative actions of Kyiv in the Donbass."
The Russian leader accused NATO "of making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory" and of building up its military capabilities near the Russian border, according to the Kremlin.
The Washington Post reported last Friday that Russia is planning a multifront offensive into Ukraine involving up to 175,000 troops as early as next year, citing U.S. officials and an intelligence document obtained by the newspaper.
Biden said that same day he has been developing a set of initiatives that will make it “very, very difficult” for Russia to escalate the situation at the border.
In turn, Moscow has suggested the U.S. and Ukraine might launch their own offensive.
VOA's Jeff Seldin and Carla Babb contributed to this report. Some information came from The Associated Press and Reuters.