WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin for nearly an hour Thursday amid growing concerns over Moscow’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine.
Biden told Putin that the United States and its allies “will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement released after the phone call.
A senior administration official said Biden told Putin he has two options: diplomacy leading to de-escalation or further aggression leading to “serious costs and consequences.”
The possible consequences include economic sanctions, adjustments of NATO forces in allied nations and additional assistance to Ukraine to defend its territory, said the official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity.
The White House has repeatedly warned Russia against invading its neighbor — with a senior administration official labeling the situation a “moment of crisis” Wednesday — and Biden’s call with Putin marked a new test of American diplomacy and leadership.
“Biden is under pressure to show results and to show whether the United States, with its allies, can deter Russia and get it to step down from this build up,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.
Biden’s call with Putin lasted roughly 50 minutes, ending at 4:25 p.m. EST, according to the White House.
Russia has ramped up its military presence along Ukraine’s eastern border over the past several months. Biden and America’s Western allies have said they will impose tough economic sanctions against Russia if its aggression against Ukraine escalates.
Ukraine declared independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, and it is now a fledgling democracy with a pro-Western tilt. U.S. foreign policy experts say it is in America’s interest to stave off Russian aggression, particularly as Putin looks to rebuild the Soviet empire.
Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, a swath of Ukrainian territory located between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. The Kremlin has continued to try to undermine the country’s sovereignty, militarily and in other ways.
The White House has previously said discussions with Russia would be more productive if Putin withdraws some of the estimated 100,000 Russian troops from Ukraine’s border. However, troop presence has remained consistent, worrying the White House.
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Biden and Putin’s call came ahead of a bilateral meeting between U.S. and Russian officials scheduled for Jan. 10. That same week, there will also be meetings between NATO and Russia, as well as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, where Ukraine will be present.
The administration official said Biden viewed his conversation with Putin on Thursday as an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the upcoming January meetings.
“Both leaders acknowledged that there were likely to be areas where we could make meaningful progress,” the official said.
Putin has said he wants the U.S. and Western allies to not allow Ukraine to join NATO — a move he argues would pose a threat to Russian security. The Russian leader has also demanded that NATO no longer station troops or military equipment in countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.
“We have made it clear that any further movement of NATO to the East is unacceptable,” Putin said at a news conference on Dec. 23. “Is there anything unclear about this? Are we deploying missiles near the US border? No, we are not. It is the United States that has come to our home with its missiles and is already standing at our doorstep.”
Biden held a high-stakes video teleconference with Putin earlier this month, where he emphasized that he preferred a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine. However, the president warned that if Russia invades Ukraine, the U.S. would send additional defense resources to Ukraine and would look to deploy additional forces to fortify its NATO allies in the area.
Contributing: Michael Collins, Matthew Brown and Joey Garrison
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_
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