President Joe Biden will speak on Thursday with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid “a moment of crisis” on the Russia-Ukraine border, where Moscow has amassed a troop build-up over recent months that continues to agitate the United States and European allies, the White House announced on Wednesday.
The two leaders will “discuss a range of topics” during their phone call, “including upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said in a statement. But the main point of conversation is certain to be the Russian military presence on Ukraine’s eastern frontier, which “remains a continuing source of great concern,” a senior administration official told reporters.
“We would like to see, obviously, a reduction in that build-up and return of forces to their regular training areas, their long-term deployment areas. That is something we continue to communicate to the Russian side,” the official said on a call organized by the National Security Council. “But our goal is to engage the diplomacy, begin the discussions, and then see if we can create the kind of environment that allows for a deescalation and progress at the negotiating table.”
“We are in a moment of crisis and have been for several weeks now given the Russian build-up,” the official said, adding: “It will take a high level of engagement to address this and to try to find a path of deescalation.”
Biden and Putin’s call on Thursday will be their second this month, after the American president warned his Russian counterpart three weeks ago that the United States and European allies would impose “strong” economic penalties and other punitive actions on Russia should it mount an invasion of Ukraine.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan elaborated after the Biden-Putin call that in addition to financial sanctions against Russia, the United States would “provide additional defensive material” to Ukraine and “fortify our NATO allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities” if Russia invaded. Sullivan also threatened steps by the United States to halt Nord Stream 2, the pipeline under the Baltic Sea meant to transport inexpensive natural gas from Russia to Germany.
The call on Thursday will come ahead of security talks between U.S. and Russian officials set to take place in Geneva in January. Earlier this month, Russia demanded assurances from NATO that the alliance will not expand farther east and that it will end all military activity in Ukraine and Eastern Europe.
On Wednesday, the senior administration official said the United States had “made plans to reinforce NATO’s force posture and allied states in the event of a further invasion,” which “would destabilize the security situation in Europe and demand adjustments to NATO forces and capabilities, especially on the eastern flank.”
“We are prepared to provide Ukraine with further assistance to defend its territory and respond to a potential Russian occupation should a further invasion proceed in the coming weeks,” the official said. “And [Biden] will emphasize this to President Putin.”
The White House has stressed repeatedly that the Europeans will have a seat at the table for negotiations with Russia. Horne on Wednesday said the administration “continues to engage in extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners, consulting and coordinating on a common approach” to the military build-up.
The senior administration official also said Biden “will make clear when he speaks with President Putin that we will continue to coordinate closely with our allies and partners on all of these matters and will proceed on the principle of nothing about them without them.”
In addition, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, discussing “efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.
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