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Putin in the Kremlin. Photo: Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik via Getty

President Biden will seek to convince Russia's Vladimir Putin in a phone call Tuesday that the price of invading Ukraine would be steeper than anything he's faced in the past.

Driving the news: Biden held a call on Ukraine this evening with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., while Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to offer America's "unwavering support."

State of play: The U.S. has been coordinating sanctions with European allies to be triggered if Putin proceeds.

  • A senior administration official told reporters Monday that the U.S. is also prepared to send additional military aid to Ukraine and increase its troop presence, capabilities and military exercises on NATO's "eastern flank" in response to a Russian incursion.

Yes, but: The U.S. has no intention of using military force to defend Ukraine, and Putin is "not afraid of sanctions at all," said Tatiana Stanovaya, founder of Moscow-based political analysis firm R.Politik.

  • The most drastic sanctions move reportedly under discussion would involve disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payments system. Russia’s central bank has already worked with Russian banks to prepare for that scenario, Stanovaya noted.

The big picture: Russia has deployed some 94,000 troops to various points near the border, and is "stepping up its planning for significant military action against Ukraine," the senior official briefed reporters ahead of the Biden-Putin conversation.

  • The White House has also warned that the Kremlin is waging 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.

Flashback: This is the second time a looming crisis has triggered a high-profile tête-à-tête with Putin — the first being the Geneva summit in June. The administration had hoped to keep Russia on the back burner, avoid escalation, and focus on China.

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.
  • Zelensky today visited the front-lines of Ukraine’s simmering conflict with Russian-backed separatists and issued a statement saying Ukraine's military was prepared to “thwart any conquest plans of the enemy.”

Reality check: NATO appears unlikely to either invite Ukraine to join anytime soon or to guarantee it never will.

What to watch: "I think what Russia is engaged in is diplomacy by other means. ... 'They will not listen to my entreaties, they will not listen to my diplomatic notes, they will pay attention only to my troops movements,'" said Dmitri Trenin of Carnegie Moscow.

  • Trenin considers an invasion unlikely, not because of the sanctions threat but the high military cost.
  • However, Stanovaya expects Putin to issue Biden an "ultimatum." If the U.S. and its allies won't seriously engage over his desired security guarantees by early next year, "he will go to war," she said.
  • "I have never seen him in a position where he felt himself so strong, arrogant, self-confident and ready to go much further than we can imagine," she adds.

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 13 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

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