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The Biden administration wants to present a united front with Europe against Russia


Ukraine's foreign minister says Russia has to be stopped right now. Its president is calling for a cease-fire. France says its discussing just that with Russia now, and yet Russian joint exercises with troops from Belarus are continuing. And here in Washington, President Biden meets with the National Security Council, with Vice President Harris joining from Air Force Two on the way back from a security conference in Munich. NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid joins us now to talk about the Ukraine crisis and more. Good morning, Asma.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Good morning, Don.

GONYEA: So what's the situation as it stands today?

KHALID: Well, this morning, the vice president told reporters from Europe that they are concerned about the real possibility for war in Europe. This administration believes that Vladimir Putin has made a decision. The White House did say that President Biden's been monitoring the situation over the weekend, getting regularly updates about events in the region. And as you mentioned, he is convening a meeting of the National Security Council today. You know, look; they have been very concerned that, frankly, Ukraine could be invaded by Russia at any moment. The president himself said Friday that he also believes that Putin has made up his mind, and yet he did say - I think sort of ever the optimist - that diplomacy is not off the table until an actual invasion occurs.

GONYEA: I want to zoom out a bit and get your sense of how this White House looks and feels as it handles this major international crisis. President Biden came into office during a pandemic and after an attack on the Capitol, so this isn't the first time alarm bells have rung for this administration. But I'm wondering what stands out to you as you watch them deal with Russia and Ukraine.

KHALID: You know, this White House, I will say, in this particular crisis, to me, feels like it has been obsessed with staying in constant contact with allies and making sure that they're united in their response to Russia. And it does seem that the foreign policy response here feels more deliberate, perhaps more methodical than some of the earlier moments we saw in Joe Biden's presidency. You know, I think of the U.S.-Australia submarine deal that deeply irked the French or the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan that, you know, we know ended with a very chaotic evacuation.

GONYEA: Afghanistan - does that cast a shadow on Kyiv at this point?

KHALID: You know, Don, I think that no doubt Kabul casts a shadow on pretty much any foreign policy decision this White House is going to make. But I do think that these are fundamentally different crises. The U.S. was involved in a war in Afghanistan for 20 years. It had a direct hand in the situation. And Kyiv seems more of a Cold War situation. You know, President Biden has made it very clear that he is not putting U.S. troops on the ground to fight in Ukraine, but he does strongly believe that national borders should not be changed by force, and he sees any sort of land invasion from Russia as a threat to democracy. So what's the best way to counter that? In this situation, we see that they are trying to create a united front with really much of Europe, and that means sanctions. It means diplomacy. But it does also mean that this administration has decided to send troops to NATO's eastern flank to reassure some of those nervous allies.

GONYEA: And the vice president - talk about her role as it relates to this crisis.

KHALID: Yeah. Well, she spent the last couple of days in Munich at the security council. She's been meeting with allies, the secretary general of NATO and the president of Ukraine. She's really been, I would say, sort of the leadership face in Europe of this administration trying to ensure that a united response - you know, that this administration but also that the transatlantic leaders have a united response to any potential Russian aggression. The Biden administration has said that it will deliver a very severe sanctions package, and what we've been told is that she's been focused in her meetings there in Europe on, you know, some of the ongoing diplomatic efforts but also the sanctions that could be imposed on Russia.

GONYEA: Just very quickly, Biden warned on Tuesday the situation could be painful here at home. What's he saying?

KHALID: Essentially, he's speaking about rising energy prices. The president made it clear that if Russia decides to invade, there could be consequences when we talk about energy prices here at home. You know, this is complicated, though, Don, by the fact that this administration is already dealing with inflation at levels we have not seen in this country in four decades. And as a result, polls show Americans are really cynical about how the president has been handling the economy.

GONYEA: That's NPR White House correspondent Asma Khalid. Asma, thank you.

KHALID: Happy to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.