President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak by telephone on Thursday, the White House said on Wednesday. The call was requested by Putin a White House official said.
The call is the second known discussion between the two leaders this month. It comes as Washington and European allies warn Moscow that invading its ex-Soviet neighbor will trigger economic and political countermeasures. This call comes amid an alarming Russian military buildup on its shared border with Ukraine.
National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne said in a statement, “The two leaders will discuss a range of topics, including upcoming diplomatic engagements.” We’re in a moment of crisis with the Russian buildup and it will take a high level of engagement to address this and find a path of de-escalation.”
A senior Biden administration official. who spoke on the condition of anonymity, in order to share details ahead of the call said Wednesday, “We are prepared for diplomacy and for a diplomatic path forward, but we are also prepared to respond if Russia advances with a further invasion of Ukraine.”
“We have coordinated with our allies to impose severe sanctions on the Russian economy and financial system far beyond what was implemented in 2014,” the official said, referring to Moscow’s invasion of Crimea.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said, “Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday and reiterated the United States unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders.”
Price added, “The two discussed efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia.”
Putin said earlier this week he would ponder a slew of options if the West fails to meet his push for security guarantees precluding NATO’S expansion to Ukraine.
Earlier this month, Moscow submitted draft security documents demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back its military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
The U.S. and its allies have refused to offer Russia the kind of guarantees on Ukraine that Putin wants, citing NATO’s principle that membership is open to any qualifying country. They agree, however, to hold talks with Russia next month to discuss its concerns.
U.S. intelligence has warned that Russia could invade Ukraine as early as January, a U.S. official told CBS News earlier this month. Russia has built up an estimated 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border. Despite recent reports that the Russians have withdrawn 10,000 troops from the area, the White House is greatly concerned about the still significant Russian troop presence along the border.
The Kremlin has previously denied that it is preparing to invade Ukraine and has defended the significant troop deployment. The Kremlin has also alleged NATO has escalated tensions on Russia’s borders and accused the 30-member alliance of building up militaries in states adjacent to Russia.
The Kremlin has dismissed suggestions that Moscow is preparing to attack Ukraine. Even so, Putin told Biden during a December 7, 2021 call that NATO should reject Ukraine’s bid for membership in exchange for assurances that Russian troops will not strike.
Biden did not accept Putin’s “red lines” on Ukraine during their two-hour video call. Since 2002, Ukraine has sought entry into the alliance, where an attack on one member country is considered an attack on all of them. Russia has defended its right to deploy troops in its own territory.
The Biden administration is “gravely concerned about the nature of the Russian true presence there and the capabilities that they have,” which are “not entirely static from our perspective,” the official said Wednesday.
“We would like to see a reduction in that buildup and the return of forces to their regular training areas,” the person added.
The two leaders are expected during Thursday’s call to discuss efforts to persuade Iran to return to the 2015 nuclear accord, which was effectively scrapped by the Trump administration.
Despite differences on Ukraine and other issues, White House officials have said the Iran nuclear issue is one where they believe the U.S. and Russia can work cooperatively.
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