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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.

Go deeper

Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. accuses Russia of preparing "false flag" operation to attack Ukraine

Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

The U.S. claims to have information indicating that Russia has "already prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation in eastern Ukraine," laying the groundwork for a potential pretext to invade, according to a U.S. official.

Why it matters: Diplomatic talks between the U.S., its European allies and Russia failed to produce a breakthrough this week, raising fears that Moscow will invade Ukraine and unleash a devastating new war.

Updated Jan 14, 2022 - World

U.S. confirms Russia arrested REvil ransomware hackers

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking in Moscow in June 2021. Photo: Alexei Nikolsky/TASS via Getty Images

Russia's security agency said Friday it arrested members of the Russia-based cyber gang REvil that was responsible for multiple massive ransomware attacks against U.S. companies last year.

The latest: A senior administration official confirmed on Friday afternoon that Russia informed the U.S. that it arrested the alleged hackers, including an individual responsible for the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline.

Updated 9 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments — Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Biden admin withdraws temporary vaccine-or-test mandate for large employers — New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker