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President Biden and German Chancellor Scholz discuss possible sanctions on Russia

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

With Russian troops surrounding Ukraine, NATO allies have been working out what to do if diplomatic talks fail and Moscow decides to invade. Today, President Biden met at the White House with the new German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. They're trying to show that they're on the same page.

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PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We are in agreement that it cannot be business as usual if Russia further invades.

FLORIDO: Here to talk about the latest developments are NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman and NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Hi to both of you.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

FLORIDO: Franco, I'll start with you. There's been some question about whether the U.S. and Germany were on the same page on potential sanctions, especially when it comes to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. What did the two leaders have to say about that today?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, that's right. Biden, I will say, this time promised that if Russia invades, this brand-new pipeline, under development for a long time, won't come to pass. But there have been some questions about Germany's commitment to taking this action against Russia. And there's also been some ambiguity. Germany is very dependent, for example, on gas and energy resources from Russia. But Biden really sought to leave no doubt on this point.

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BIDEN: If Russia invades - that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again - then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it.

ORDOÑEZ: So very declarative. The Chancellor - he said something similar, but not completely the same. He even spoke in English to make his point. But he didn't say explicitly that the pipeline would be stopped.

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OLAF SCHOLZ: We will be united. We will act together. And we will take all the necessary steps, and all the necessary steps will be done by all of us together.

FLORIDO: What sense of urgency did you hear from the two leaders, Franco, about whether an invasion seems imminent?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, President Biden reiterated that Russia is ready and has the troops in place, but he also repeated earlier assessments, raising questions about whether Putin would take action. Biden said he didn't know if Putin would act, and he said he wasn't sure even if Putin knew whether he was going to act.

But both Biden and Chancellor Scholz emphasized that there was a diplomatic path - Biden as he walked off the stage. He even answered a shouted question about whether there was a diplomatic off-ramp for Putin to avoid a military conflict, and he said that there was.

FLORIDO: Tom, we've been watching as Russia has built up its forces around Ukraine's border in recent weeks. Is that buildup continuing?

BOWMAN: Yes, it is. A Pentagon spokesman, John Kirby, said today the U.S. continues to see sizeable Russian forces heading to the Ukrainian border. And he said, it's now well north of 100,000 troops - everything from infantry to armor, artillery, air and missile defense, special operations forces. I'm also told a major tank unit from Moscow is now heading that way. And we're hearing Russian ships with tanks and armored vehicles aboard could be heading into Turkey's Bosphorus Strait as early as this week and then move into the Black Sea.

Pentagon officials and analysts still believe this could be a major invasion, taking over the entire country, or at least a sizable chunk of eastern Ukraine. And they also say there's still a window for diplomacy, but that window is fast closing.

FLORIDO: And what can you tell us, Tom, about the movement of U.S. forces in Eastern Europe, along with the forces of allied troops?

BOWMAN: Well, the lead elements of the 82nd Airborne Division have arrived in Poland, part of some 1,700 troops expected from the 82nd. Other American troops will be arriving in Romania. Great Britain, meanwhile, announced it will send another 350 troops to Poland to join the 100 already there.

Now, all these troops are meant to shore up NATO defenses, but not head into Ukraine. The U.S. has a few hundred trainers (ph) in Ukraine, by the way, and those will be pulled out, I'm told, if there's an invasion.

FLORIDO: Franco, you were in the room today for the press conference with these two leaders. What else struck you about what they said?

ORDOÑEZ: You know, one of the questions that Biden was asked about when he was asked about the threat was if he would recommend Americans leave Ukraine. And he was, you know, very careful to say that his diplomatic corps should remain. But he also took a beat and said, yes, Americans who may be thinking about it, you know, that they should leave. He said he'd hate for them to get caught up in any violence.

FLORIDO: Tom, how would you describe the level of concern right now at the Pentagon? What are people there telling you?

BOWMAN: Well, first of all, Russia continues to deny it will invade Ukraine, and there are still talks with Putin and European leaders, most recently France's Emmanuel Macron, trying to defuse tensions. But officials are bracing for an invasion, especially those at the Pentagon, again, a large one as Russia moves ever more forces toward Ukraine. There's a real concern this is going to get very bad and fairly soon.

FLORIDO: That was NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman and NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

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

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
Franco Ordoñez is a White House Correspondent for NPR's Washington Desk. Before he came to NPR in 2019, Ordoñez covered the White House for McClatchy. He has also written about diplomatic affairs, foreign policy and immigration, and has been a correspondent in Cuba, Colombia, Mexico and Haiti.