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Biden amps pressure on Russia as invasion threat to Ukraine escalates

Even if Russia chooses to take military action against the former Soviet republic, the U.S. president sees diplomacy as "the best way forward."

WASHINGTON (CN) — Reiterating clear warnings to President Vladimir Putin about the repercussions Russia would face if it invades Ukraine, President Joe Biden gave a speech Tuesday emphasizing America's commitment to the latter country's sovereignty and calling for high-level diplomatic talks.

"We should give the diplomacy every chance to succeed," he said from the East Room of the White House.

Insisting that Russia should not see the U.S. as an enemy, Biden held up diplomacy as "the best way forward" amid global tensions.

Russia has been ratcheting up its military presence on Ukraine's eastern border for months, stationing more than 130,000 troops along the border, conducting live ammunitions drills, and blocking Ukrainian ports with naval units.

These moves by the Kremlin are reminiscent of the 2014 annexation of Crimea and have put U.S. officials on edge about the possibility of a Russian invasion of the former Soviet territory, though many Russian experts believe the costs of conflict would be too high for Putin to take such action.

Putin said early Tuesday he would be withdrawing some troops from areas around Ukraine and remains open to dialogue as he pushes for NATO members to keep Ukraine and other former Soviet nations from joining the Western alliance, a demand to which the U.S. and its allies are staunchly opposed.

Biden said the two countries have agreed to continue high-level diplomatic talks, but the U.S. has not been able to confirm Putin's claims of troop withdrawals.

"That would be good, but we have not yet verified that. We have not yet verified the Russian military units are returning to their home bases," Biden said. "Indeed, our analysts indicate that they remain very much in a threatening position."

While the U.S. has placed policy options on the table for diplomatic negotiations, it stands firm on its support for Ukrainian autonomy regarding NATO, the president noted.

"We're proposing new arms control measures, new transparency measures, new strategic stability measures," Biden said. "These measures apply to all parties, NATO and Russia alike. We are willing to make practical result-oriented steps that can advance our common security. We will not sacrifice basic principles though. Nations have a right to sovereignty and territorial integrity. They have the freedom to set their own course and choose with whom they will associate."

Biden directed part of his speech at Russian citizens, emphasizing that the U.S. and its allies are not a threat to Russia amid escalating tensions and that no NATO member nations have or intend to place missiles in Ukraine.

"We're not targeting the people of Russia. We do not seek to destabilize Russia. To the citizens of Russia, you are not our enemy, and I do not believe you want a bloody destructive war against Ukraine, a country and the people with whom you share such deep ties of family history and culture," Biden said.

Russian army tanks move back to their permanent base after drills in Russia on Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2022. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP)

Amid the continuing conversations with Russia, the U.S. president noted an invasion of Ukraine remains "distinctly possible."

"If Russia attacks Ukraine, it will be met with overwhelming international condemnation. The world will not forget that Russia chose needless death and destruction. Invading Ukraine will prove to be a self-inflicted wound. The United States and our allies and partners will respond decisively," Biden said.

The president said direct economic sanctions on the Russian government, its banks and exports are on the table in the event it leads a physical or cyberattack.

"This is about more than just Russia and Ukraine. It's about standing for what we believe in, for the future we want for our world, for liberty, the right of countless countries to choose their own destiny, and the right of people to determine their own futures, for the principle that a country can't change its neighbor's borders by force. That's our vision," Biden said. "Toward that end, I'm confident that vision, that freedom will prevail. If Russia proceeds, we will rally the world who oppose its aggression."

While Russia's next move remains uncertain, the U.S. has taken protective measures in recent days to prepare for an invasion.

On Saturday, the U.S. announced the deployment of 3,000 U.S. forces to Poland and, on Monday, the U.S. closed its embassy in Kyiv, temporarily relocating diplomatic officials to a base in Lviv on the western side of Ukraine.

The U.S. government has also urged all American citizens to evacuate Ukraine amid the uncertainty.

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