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Biden agrees to meet Putin for summit if Russia doesn't invade Ukraine first

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Biden agrees to meet Putin for summit if Russia doesn't invade Ukraine first
U.S. President Joe Biden has agreed in principle to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin for a summit on the situation in Ukraine. Photo by Oliver Contreras/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 20 (UPI) -- U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed late Sunday to hold a summit as U.S. officials remain concerned about a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Biden has "accepted in principle" to meet with Putin to discuss Moscow's military buildup along the Ukrainian border on the condition that Russia does not invade its neighboring nation first.

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"As the president has repeatedly made clear, we are committed to pursuing diplomacy until the moment an invasion begins," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

The French-orchestrated summit would occur following a meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov scheduled for Thursday.

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"We are always ready for diplomacy," Psaki said. "We are also ready to impose swift and severe consequences should Russia instead choose war. And currently, Russia appears to be continuing preparations for a full-scale assault on Ukraine very soon."

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The office of French President Emmanuel Macron said he proposed the summit to Biden and Putin, the contents of which will be prepared during Blinken and Lavrov's meeting.

Elysee Palace reiterated that the summit will only be held "at the condition that Russia does not invade Ukraine."

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The announcement of the summit followed a flurry of diplomatic calls between world leaders as fears continue to rise over a Russian invasion of the former Soviet nation.

Blinken earlier Sunday told CNN's State of the Union that Russia has been "escalating the forces they have across Ukraine's borders over the last months" from 50,000 to more than 150,000 as he expressed worry that Moscow was preparing to create a pretext for an invasion.

"It tells us that the playbook we laid out, I laid out at the U.N. Security Council last week about Russia trying to create a series of provocations as justifications for aggression against Ukraine, is going forward," Blinken said.

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Blinken's comments came as Belarus' defense minister extended military exercises with Russian forces that had previously been scheduled to end Sunday while announcing a joint task force to "fight back if necessary."

"We've seen that over the last few days. Now they're justifying the continuation of exercises, exercises in quotation marks, that they said would end now. The continuation indefinitely of those, quote, unquote, exercises, on the situation in eastern Ukraine, a situation that they created by continuing to ramp up tensions," said Blinken.

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Blinken added that during his Thursday meeting with Lavrov that "I will do everything I can to see if we can advance a diplomatic resolution to this crisis created by Russia and its aggression against Ukraine."

Earlier Sunday, Biden held a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss the situation, according to a one-sentence readout from the White House. The meeting was held a day after Vice President Kamala Harris met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Macron spoke with Zelensky for about 30 minutes on Sunday and held at least one phone call with Putin, according to the Elysee Palace.

Macron's office said he and Putin agreed to work on facilitating a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group -- Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe -- to "obtain a commitment from all parties to a cease-fire on the line of contact" between Ukrainian government forces and separatists backed by Russia.

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The statement said the two leaders agreed it was necessary to "give priority to a diplomatic solution to the current crisis and to do everything possible to achieve it."

However, the Kremlin's readout of the discussion did not mention such a meeting and said the leaders "considered it expedient to intensify the search for solutions through diplomatic means."

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, who has maintained close ties with Putin, laid out a handful of outcomes at hand but said a peaceful resolution seemed like a distant possibility.

"The first one is that, somehow, they could settle the issue of Eastern Ukraine, Minsk agreement, and all that. I think it's far away. Then, second option is that we will see a full-scale war," he told CNN. "And the third one, which is as bad, is that we see this kind of ... two steps forward, one back, that is increasing tensions all the time."

Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Kristina Kvien reiterated the U.S. stance that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be costly to Russia in both human life through conflict and ensuing sanctions.

"Ultimately President Putin has to decide not to take a path that will be disastrous," Kvien told ABC News This Week.

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"Disastrous for Ukraine of, course, with the potential for thousands of casualties, but also disastrous for Russia, not only because Ukraine will fight and Russia will face casualties too, but also because Russia will face devastating sanctions by the United States and other partners and allies if they take this path."

As the tensions rise, the U.S. Embassy in Russia issued a security alert Sunday warning Americans to stay alert in locations frequented by tourists and Westerns and to prepare evacuation plays.

"According to media sources, there have been threats of attacks against shopping centers, railway and metro stations and other public gathering places in major urban areas, including Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as in areas of heightened tension along the Russian border with Ukraine," the statement said.

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