President Joe Biden, Russia's Vladimir Putin confer for 50 minutes in phone call about Ukraine


President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke Thursday in a 50-minute phone call about the rising tensions between the two countries over Ukraine, where Russian troops have been massing near the border.

The phone call occurred at Mr. Putin’s request. 

Russia has made clear it wants a written commitment that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance’s military equipment will not be positioned in former Soviet states, demands that the Biden administration has made clear are non-starters.

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The White House said ahead of the call that Biden would tell Putin that a diplomatic path remains open even as the Russians have moved an estimated 100,000 troops toward Ukraine and Kremlin officials have turned up the volume on its demands for new guarantees from the U.S. and NATO.

Those demands are to be discussed during the talks set for Jan. 10 in Geneva. It remains unclear what, if anything, Biden would be willing to offer Putin in exchange for defusing the crisis.

The two leaders hadn’t spoken since Dec. 7 when they had an, at times, tense video conference that last for more than two hours.

Diplomacy between the two countries has steadily deteriorated since then, and U.S. officials say they have seen no sign of Russian pulling back from the Ukrainian border.

White House officials pushed back on speculation that the timing of Mr. Putin’s last-minute request to speak was unusual as it came just days ahead of previously scheduled meetings between U.S. and Russian officials.

Officials from both countries are scheduled to attend a series of meetings in early January to discuss Ukraine and European security.

“When President Biden has asked to speak with President Putin over the course of 2021, President Putin has said, ‘Yes, let’s talk,’” an administration official said before Thursday’s call. “And when President Putin says, ‘I’m interested in touching base and having a phone call,’ President Biden says, ‘Yes.’”

The official added that both leaders value “direct leader-to-leader engagement.”

Mr. Biden took the call from his residence in Wilmington, Delaware.

The White House is expected to release further details of the phone call later Thursday.

• This article includes wire service reports.

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