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Battle lines appear to be tightening over Russia’s potential invasion into neighboring Ukraine — and NATO and other European leaders are pleading for diplomacy ahead of face-to-face talks between the U.S. and Russia in Geneva next week.

The White House is pushing back against a report that said the Biden administration might be willing to consider lowering troop levels in Eastern Europe if Russia would pull back its forces from near Ukraine, Christina Ruffini reports for “CBS Saturday Morning.” A senior State Department official told reporters on Friday, “I want to be crystal clear that that is not accurate.”

But the Putin problem remains. 

“Russia’s aggressive actions are a threat to peace and security in Europe,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a rare Friday news conference.

He threatened massive consequences for further Russian aggression in Europe, but said diplomacy is still an option.

The U.S. wants Russia to reduce its troop presence along Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russian forces annexed Crimea in 2014. Russia, in turn, has made its own demands, including that no new countries be allowed to join NATO.

Both the U.S. and NATO have called that a nonstarter.

“We will not compromise on core principles, including the right for every nation to decide its own path, including what kind of security arrangements it wants to be a part of,” said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

A U.S. intelligence report estimated the nearly 100,000 Russian forces near Ukraine could be ready to invade at the start of this year.

This week, Russian paratroopers landed in neighboring Kazakhstan after its president requested help controlling anti-government protests.

“I think one lesson in recent history is that once Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave,” said Blinken.

President Biden has said U.S. forces won’t be going into Ukraine, but they might be needed in NATO ally countries around Eastern Europe if Russia decides to venture past its border. 

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