Dec 29, 2021 - World

Biden accepts Putin request for phone call ahead of talks on Ukraine

Biden and Putin

Photo: Peter Klaunzer-Pool/Keystone via Getty Images

President Biden will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday afternoon, ahead of a series of diplomatic talks in January over Russia's military buildup on its border with Ukraine.

Why it matters: The call — which was requested by Putin, according to a senior Biden administration official — will mark the second time the two leaders have spoken this month.

  • With more than 100,000 troops massing on the border with Ukraine, U.S. officials have warned that Russia could launch a large-scale invasion as soon as next month.
  • Putin has laid out a series of maximalist demands for scaling back U.S. and NATO activity in Europe, warning that the alliance's expansion and cooperation with Ukraine is threatening Russia's security.

What they're saying: A senior administration official said they could not speak specifically to why Putin had requested the phone call, but noted that Biden is always prepared to speak directly with his counterparts at times of heightened tensions.

  • "President Biden will make clear that there is a diplomatic path to de-escalating tensions in the region, if President Putin is interested in taking it," the official said.
  • The official added that the U.S. has developed its own detailed list of concerns with Russia's behavior and the security situation in Europe, but that they plan to discuss it with the Russians behind closed doors, rather than in public.

The big picture: The U.S. and Russia agreed this week to hold bilateral talks on Jan. 10, followed by a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on Jan. 12 and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Jan. 13.

  • The U.S. and its European allies have threatened Russia with unprecedented sanctions and an increased troop presence on NATO's eastern flank if Putin moves forward with an invasion of Ukraine.
  • Putin has demanded that NATO rule out eastward expansion and all military activity in former Soviet republics. The U.S. has said it will consider Russia's proposals but called some of them "unacceptable."

Between the lines: The Biden administration has been deliberate about coordinating with its European allies, insisting that any conversations about Europe and Ukraine's security should not take place without them at the table.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken held a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan is in frequent contact with his Ukrainian counterpart.
  • The Ukrainian government has asked the U.S. for more military aid to help it deter Russia, but the requests have so far gone unfulfilled as the Biden administration seeks a possible diplomatic resolution.

Editor's note: This post has been updated with new details throughout.

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