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The White House responds to the Ukraine crisis by amping up pressure on Russia

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The Biden White House is responding to all this by amping up pressure on Russia. Now, after that call yesterday, President Biden and European allies threatened massive consequences and severe economic costs if an invasion takes place. At the same time, Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been doing some intense diplomacy in Europe to try and de-escalate tensions. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow joins us for more on how President Biden is looking at the situation. Scott, you just learned more details about what these sanctions could look like if Russia invades Ukraine. Tell us about it.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Yeah, the White House keeps framing them as far more severe than the sanctions that were imposed when Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. And we learned a bit more about what's on the table this morning on a call with some White House officials. There would be the traditional kind of economic and banking sanctions that were used in 2014 and had a major impact on the ruble and the Russian economy at the time. But the administration is also talking about something different - what it's calling novel export controls.

MARTINEZ: Novel export controls. What are those?

DETROW: So the basic idea would be working with allies to ban exports to Russia of products and technology used for advanced industries. So that's areas like aerospace technology, artificial intelligence, quantum computing - you know, the kinds of sectors that Russia needs to grow to diversify its economy from oil and gas. Another thing worth mentioning is that we are hearing from the administration that there is a real concern - you know, we've talked about it on the show - that Russia would respond to these sanctions by cutting off natural gas supply to Europe. So the White House says that it is in a lot of talks right now to replace that Russian supply with natural gas from other sources if that is needed.

MARTINEZ: All right, so what else is the White House doing and signaling?

DETROW: So in addition to the more specific threats, Secretary of State Blinken was making it clear over the weekend that the U.S. and allies would respond to any incursion, no matter the size. And that comes after Biden's statement during that press conference last week that the scale of the response would partially depend on the scale of the attack, and that's something that the White House immediately clarified after the press conference because it led to real outcry from Ukrainian leaders. The U.S. government is also making it clear that this is a serious situation, and they're urging Americans in Ukraine to leave the country if they can.

MARTINEZ: All right, let's take a broader step back because all this comes at a time when it looks like President Biden is struggling in a lot of things. So how does this latest crisis fit into the range of problems that's on the president's plate right now?

DETROW: You know, I think if you look at all the challenges that Biden is facing - COVID, inflation, you could even put the stalled bills in the Senate that he's trying to get through - the constant theme is these are all things that Biden has some influence on but, in many ways, are beyond his control. You know, when it comes to COVID, delta and omicron really blew up Biden's COVID strategies, as one example.

So what is happening here - Biden and U.S. allies are threatening major sanctions, as we talked about, and they're still trying for these diplomatic solutions. But in the end, it's really clear the U.S. and NATO do not want to go to war with Russia over Ukraine. Those 8,500 troops on active alert possibly being moved to Eastern Europe - you know, compare that to 100,000 Russian troops. That signals that fact in one way. So many of these deterrent efforts might fall flat if Vladimir Putin is willing to take this step, even as Biden warns of these disastrous economic consequences, and that would be yet another example of Biden not getting what he wants at a moment when many Republicans are framing this as an increasingly weak presidency.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Scott, thanks a lot.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.