WASHINGTON - U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned of "severe" and "enormous" consequences for Russian President Vladimir Putin - including personal sanctions against Putin himself - if the Russian leader mobilizes the estimated 127,000 troops who stand ready to strike along the Ukrainian border.
"I have made it clear early on to President Putin that if he were to move into Ukraine, that there would be severe consequences, including significant economic sanctions as well as I'd feel obliged to beef up our presence, NATO's presence, on the eastern front, Poland, Romania, etc," Biden said, adding: "If he were to move in with all those forces, it would be the largest invasion since World War II. It would change the world."
US President Joe Biden greets well-wishers as he makes a surprise walk down Barracks Row in Washington, on Jan. 25, 2022.
He also stressed that none of the 8,500 U.S. troops put on high alert this week would be moved into Ukrainian territory, and they would be deployed as part of a NATO operation, not a sole U.S. operation. He did not say when he might decide to order those troops into theater.
Biden said the U.S. has a "sacred obligation" to come to the aid of NATO allies that face threats. Ukraine is not a member of NATO - though it wants to be. However, neighboring Russia sees possible NATO membership as a threat and has demanded that the security alliance bar Ukraine from membership. Putin has said he has no intention to invade Ukraine but sees NATO's eastward expansion as a threat.
"And I've spoken with every one of our NATO allies ... virtually, and we're all on the same page,' Biden said. "We've got to make it clear that there's no reason for anyone, any member of NATO, to worry whether or not ... we - NATO - would come to their defense.'
Biden, who spoke to reporters from inside a small D.C. business that sells locally made crafts themed around the nation's capital, said he had no indication of what the Russian leader's next move would be.
"It's a little bit like reading tea leaves," Biden said, as he clutched a mug bearing the cartoon likeness of Vice President Kamala Harris. He bought the mug.
Russian President Vladimir Putin talks with members of Russia's national team ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, via a videoconference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Jan. 25, 2022.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, in a response to a question from VOA, said Tuesday that Russian forces have grown "consistently" but not "dramatically."
"We have seen a consistent accumulation of combat power by the Russians in the western part of their country around the borders with Ukraine and Belarus," Kirby said.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. warned Russia that it would face faster and far more severe economic consequences if it invades Ukraine than it did when Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 201
"We are prepared to implement sanctions with massive consequences that were not considered in 2014," a national security official told reporters in Washington. "That means the gradualism of the past is out. And this time, we'll start at the top of the escalation ladder and stay there."
The security official, speaking anonymously, said the U.S. is "also prepared to impose novel export controls" to hobble the Russian economy.
"We use them to prohibit the export of products from Russia," the official said. "And given the reason they work is if you ... step back and look at the global dominance of U.S.-origin software technology, the export control options we're considering alongside our allies and partners would hit Putin's strategic ambitions to industrialize his economy quite hard, and it would impair areas that are of importance to him, whether it's in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, or defense or aerospace or other key sectors."
The U.S. and its allies imposed less severe economic sanctions against Moscow after its Crimean takeover, but they ultimately proved ineffective, and the peninsula remains under Russian control.
Meanwhile, Russia said it is watching "with great concern" the decision to put U.S. troops on heightened alert for possible deployment.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated to reporters the Russian accusations that the United States is escalating tensions in the crisis along the Russia-Ukraine border, where Putin has deployed an estimated 127,000 troops.
Russia's demand that Ukraine be barred from NATO has been dismissed by the West, where leaders have said they won't give Moscow veto power over who belongs to the 30-country military alliance that was founded to counter Soviet aggression after World War II.
Anita Powell and Carla Babb contributed to this report.