Updated Dec 31, 2021 - World

Biden lays out "two paths" for Ukraine crisis in call with Putin

Biden and Putin
President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Denis Balibouse-Pool/Keystone via Getty Images

President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for 50 minutes on Thursday, in what a senior U.S. official characterized as a "serious and substantive" phone call setting the parameters for high-stakes security talks in Europe next month.

Why it matters: Russia has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine, raising fears of a large-scale invasion with devastating consequences for Europe.

  • The Biden-Putin phone call sets the stage for U.S.-Russia security talks on Jan. 10, followed by meetings of the Russia-NATO Council on Jan. 12 and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Jan. 13.
  • The talks come as Putin has demanded that the U.S. and NATO provide legal guarantees ruling out eastward expansion or military cooperation with former Soviet states, including Ukraine.

What they're saying: Speaking to Putin from his home in Delaware, Biden laid out "two paths" that will "really depend on Russia's actions in the period ahead," according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.

  • One is a "path of diplomacy" leading to de-escalation, while the other was a "path more focused on deterrence" — including massive sanctions and an increase of NATO activity in eastern member states if Russia invades Ukraine, the official said.
  • "Both leaders acknowledged there will likely be areas where we could make meaningful progress, as well as areas where agreement may be impossible," the official said. "The upcoming talks will determine more precisely the contours of each of those categories."

The other side: The Kremlin said in its own readout that Putin was "satisfied" with the "constructive" conversation, but warned Biden that major sanctions would be a "colossal mistake" that could lead to a complete breakdown in relations.

  • "Our president emphasized that in this rather difficult situation we will behave the way the United States would behave if offensive weapons were deployed near American borders," the Kremlin said, according to a translation.
  • The Kremlin emphasized that Putin is seeking "concrete" guarantees for Russia's security in the upcoming talks and that success in these negotiations could lead to the normalization of U.S.-Russia relations.

What's next: The senior Biden official said that the U.S. will continue to consult with European allies ahead of next month's talks, stressing that no decision on Ukraine will be made without Ukraine at the table.

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