US President Joe Biden on Wednesday said Washington was not considering the option of sending American troops to Ukraine amid heightened tensions with Russia.
“That is not on the table,” Biden told reporters at the White House hours after his tense virtual meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
“We have a moral obligation and a legal obligation to our NATO allies if they were to attack under Article 5, it’s a sacred obligation. That obligation does not extend to … Ukraine,” he added.
On Tuesday, Biden told Putin that the United States "would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation," the White House said in a statement.
Biden's top national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said the meeting, which lasted two hours and one minute, was "useful," and the discussion was "direct and straightforward”.
Kremlin said Putin had responded to Biden’s warning with a demand for legally binding guarantees against NATO expansion eastward and protested over NATO attempts to "develop" Ukrainian territory.
“Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia," the Kremlin said in a statement.
Toning down the tough talk, Biden on Wednesday said it would “depend upon what the rest of the NATO countries were willing to do as well” while dismissing the idea that the US would “unilaterally use force to confront Russia” if it were to invade.
He described the Wednesday meeting as “straightforward” and said there were no “minced words”.
“I made it very clear, if in fact he invades Ukraine there will be severe consequences,” Biden said, adding that the Russian leader would suffer economic penalties “like none he has ever seen.”
The US president said high-level conversations between Russia and other NATO allies are likely to be announced by the end of the week.
“The positive news is that thus far our teams have been in constant contact,” he said.
Last week, Biden had warned that he will not accept "red lines" set by Moscow, saying that he will make it "very, very difficult" for Russia to invade its neighbour.
"What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he's going to do," Biden said.
Tensions have recently escalated between Washington and Moscow over Ukraine and the Black Sea.
The US, its NATO allies and Ukraine have accused Moscow of troop buildup near Ukraine's border for a potential invasion. Russia has dismissed the allegation, while warning against any provocation.
Moscow says Washington is involved in aggressive maneuvers in the Black Sea, where Ukraine and the United States have held largescale military drills recently.
The Russian president has previously warned the West and Kiev against crossing the Kremlin's red lines over staging military exercises and sending weaponry to Ukraine.
Sullivan remarks on Tuesday that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could result in the US sending additional forces to NATO’s eastern flank fueled speculation that the military confrontation was imminent.
Sullivan also said the US would provide additional defensive assistance to Kyiv, beyond what is already being provided.
However, Biden’s remarks on Wednesday suggest that Washington is exercising caution and willing to draw the line there, unless other NATO countries stepped up to defend Ukraine.