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Putin meets Biden in Geneva. Photo: Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty

President Biden will warn Russian President Vladimir Putin when they speak on Tuesday that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. is prepared to increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank," a senior administration official told reporters.

Why it matters: The administration believes it's increasingly likely that Putin will order an invasion.

  • Biden is not threatening to respond militarily to defend Ukraine, but to hit Putin with sanctions, bolster the defenses of NATO allies like the Baltic states, and send Ukraine more equipment to defend itself.

The big picture: Russia has deployed tens of thousands of troops at various points near the border, and is "stepping up its planning for significant military action against Ukraine," the senior official said on a briefing call to preview the Biden-Putin conversation.

  • The White House has also warned that the Kremlin is stepping up a disinformation campaign against Ukraine, potentially as a pretext to blame Kyiv for any military clash.
  • “We do not know whether President Putin has made a decision about further military escalation in Ukraine. But we do know that he is putting in place the capacity to engage in such escalation should he decide to do so," the official said.

The other side: Putin has set out red lines of his own ahead of the call, including the potential deployment by NATO of offensive missiles systems on Ukrainian territory.

  • He's also seeking a legally binding guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward, including to Ukraine.
  • In addition, Moscow has objected to NATO exercises near the Russian borders, and increased cooperation between the alliance and Ukraine.

Between the lines: Ukraine is seeking membership in the alliance and Putin is seeking guarantees that Ukraine will never be invited to join. Both prospects currently appear remote.

  • Whether or not Putin orders an invasion, his troop movements have moved Russia from a secondary priority to the top of Biden's in-tray.

Asked if the U.S. military could intervene directly if Russia invades, the senior official said that the U.S. was "not seeking to end up in a circumstance in which the focus of our countermeasures is the direct use of military force."

  • The official reiterated that the focus would instead be sanctions, coordinated with Europe, as well as support for the Ukrainian military and "a substantial increase in support and capability to our NATO allies to ensure they remain safe."

The bottom line: Putin has proved time and again that he is not deterred by Western sanctions, but he may be deterred by the high military cost of invading Ukraine, says Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie Moscow.

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. accuses Russia of preparing "false flag" operation to attack Ukraine

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The U.S. claims to have information indicating that Russia has "already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," laying the groundwork for a potential pretext to invade, according to a U.S. official.

Why it matters: Diplomatic talks between the U.S., its European allies and Russia failed to produce a breakthrough this week, raising fears that Moscow will invade Ukraine and unleash a devastating new war.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. confirms Russia arrested REvil ransomware hackers

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in Moscow in June 2021. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Russia's security agency said Friday it arrested members of the Russia-based cyber gang REvil that was responsible for multiple massive ransomware attacks against U.S. companies last year.

The latest: A senior administration official confirmed on Friday afternoon that Russia informed the U.S. that it arrested the alleged hackers, including an individual responsible for the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.