US intelligence finds Russia planning Ukraine offensive

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said administration officials have “engaged in the possibility” of a Biden-Putin call. White House officials did not respond to a request for comment on the expected Zelenskyy call.

“It certainly would be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the bellicose rhetoric, about the military buildup that we’re seeing on the border of Ukraine,” Psaki said of a potential Biden-Putin call.

Biden did not detail what actions he was weighing. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met on Thursday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Sweden, said the US has threatened new sanctions. He did not detail the potential sanctions but suggested the effort would not be effective.

“If the new ‘sanctions from hell’ come, we will respond,” Lavrov said. “We can’t fail to respond.”

Psaki said the administration would look to coordinate with European allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She noted that bitter memories of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s control since 1954, are front of mind as the White House considers the way forward.

“We know what President Putin has done in the past,” Psaki said. “We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order.”

Deep differences were on display during the Blinken-Lavrov meeting, with the Russia official charging the West was “playing with fire” by denying Russia a say in any further NATO expansion into countries of the former Soviet Union. Zelenskyy has pushed for Ukraine to join the alliance, which holds out the promise of membership but has not set a a timeline.

Blinken this week said the US has “made it clear to the Kremlin that we will respond resolutely, including with a range of high-impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past”.

He did not detail what sanctions were being weighed, but one potentially could be to cut off Russia from the SWIFT system of international payments. The European Union’s Parliament approved a nonbinding resolution in April to cut off Russia from SWIFT if its troops entered Ukraine.

Such a move would go far toward blocking Russian businesses from the global financial system. Western allies reportedly considered such a step in 2014 and 2015, during earlier Russian-led escalations of tensions over Ukraine.

Then-Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said it would be tantamount to “a declaration of war”.

US-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.

In addition to the Ukraine issue, the Biden administration has levied sanctions against Russian targets and called out Putin on Kremlin interference in US elections, malign cyberactivity against US businesses, and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was poisoned last year and then later imprisoned.

Putin and Biden met face to face in Geneva in June, with the US president warning if Russia crossed certain red lines — including going after major American infrastructure — his administration would respond and “the consequences of that would be devastating”.

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