After Losing Afghanistan, Biden Plays High Stakes Diplomacy with Putin on Ukraine

President Joe Biden will speak to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a virtual meeting on Tuesday as Russian forces continue to mass along the border with Ukraine amid fears of an invasion.

The discussion between the two presidents represents high stakes diplomacy, as the future of Ukraine as an independent nation may hang in the balance and it remains unclear if the U.S. can deter Russian action.

The meeting also comes less than four months after the final withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan on August 31 and the Taliban takeover of the country.

The Biden administration was strongly criticized for the way in which the troop drawdown was handled and will be keen to avoid another perceived foreign policy failure.

Biden is expected to seek a de-escalation of tensions between Ukraine and Russia when he speaks to Putin but it is not clear what the president can do to encourage Putin to pull back his troops.

The Russian president is said to be concerned that Ukraine's government is too close to the West and has warned NATO that the country should not join the alliance.

Putin will reportedly demand a guarantee from Biden that NATO will not expand into the country when he speaks to the president on Tuesday. This guarantee would cover both NATO membership and the presence of NATO troops in Ukraine.

Biden is unlikely to be willing to give such a guarantee and would face strong criticism from his political opponents if he did. He spoke to NATO allies on the eve of the call and his administration has threatened "serious consequences" for Russia if Ukraine is invaded.

While it is not yet entirely clear what those consequences will be, it is believed they would take the form of serious economic sanctions including cutting Russia off from the international financial settlement system, known as SWIFT.

What is not likely is any direct U.S. military intervention on behalf of Ukraine. While the administration is willing to impose economic sanctions (such as restricting Russian banks) American troops will not be deployed on the ground.

The meeting comes after reports that U.S. intelligence believed Russia could invade Ukraine as soon as January and an estimated 175,000 troops could be involved. There are already around 70,000 Russian troops along the border.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Monday and "reiterated the United States' unwavering support for Ukraine's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression."

On Friday, Biden said he would make it "very, very difficult" for Russia to invade, and that he won't "accept anybody's red lines" during his talks with Putin.

Russian government officials have repeatedly dismissed suggestions that the country is preparing to invade Ukraine, with Putin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov calling the claims "aggressive and hostile rhetoric" on Monday.

Peskov said Putin would listen to "concrete proposals" with "great interest, and it will be possible to understand how much they are able to reduce tensions."

Though Biden may not be thinking about the immediate political consequences when he speaks to Putin, he can ill afford another major foreign policy defeat following the highly controversial withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Thirteen U.S. service members were killed in a bombing at Kabul airport during the withdrawal and the country swiftly fell to the Taliban, whom U.S. forces had been fighting for two decades. Biden was widely criticized for the Taliban's return to power due to their fundamentalist Islamic beliefs and poor record on women's rights.

Biden may also recall his time as vice president. When Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, then President Barack Obama faced harsh criticism.

Photo Composite Shows Putin and Biden
A composite photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden. They will hold high stakes virtual talks on Tuesday. Getty Images