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Amid Russia tensions, Biden reaffirms support for Ukraine in call with Zelenskyy


WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden reaffirmed U.S> support for Ukraine in a call Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, vowing that the U.S. and its European allies would mount a strong response should Russia launch a military offensive.

Biden told Zelenskyy that the U.S. and its European allies are prepared to pursue “strong economic measures” to punish Russia and provide additional defense hardware, in addition to boosting the capabilities of NATO allies near Ukraine, if the Kremlin moves forward with an invasion.

“President Biden made very clear of continued U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” a senior administration official said.

Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that the U.S. would seek “strong economic measures” and increase military aid to allies in the region should Russia invade its neighbor. Biden told Putin that in addition to sanctions, the U.S. would provide additional defense materials to Ukraine and build up military capabilities in nearby countries that also border Russia.

After Putin moved more than 90,000 troops to the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, Biden administration officials have said that they believe Russia might engage in military action but that they remain unclear whether a decision has been made.

In Thursday’s phone call, which lasted just under 90 minutes, Biden told Zelenskyy that he made it clear to Putin this week that “one nation can’t force another nation to change its border, one nation cannot tell another to change its politics, and nations can’t tell others who they can work with,” the senior administration official said.

The official said two days lapsed between the Putin and Zelenskyy calls because Biden had “a lot of other things on his agenda, including domestic issues, domestic travel and the rest.”

The military standoff could present Biden with his biggest foreign policy test since the chaotic U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, followed by the Taliban’s regaining control of the country, drawing bipartisan criticism.

As vice president, Biden was heavily involved in U.S. relations with Ukraine. At the time, Russia had invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. This time, the White House says it will go further in countering Russian military aggression than the U.S. did in 2014.

A key topic for Ukraine has been gaining admission to NATO, which would give it stronger military alliances with the other member countries. Putin has been a staunch critic of plans to admit Ukraine, seeing it as an aggression by the West. He has warned against any eastern expansion of NATO.

The Biden administration has said any decision about Ukraine’s entering NATO would be made between those countries.

After the call with Zelenskyy, Biden also held a call to brief the leaders of the Bucharest Nine group of NATO allies bordering Russia and Ukraine about the call with Putin and to hear their perspectives, the White House said.

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