Biden and Putin hold talks as tensions mount over Ukraine crisis

Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin, on their second phone call in recent weeks, spoke about Russian troop build-up near Ukraine.

Mr Putin’s foreign policy official said Mr Biden reiterated the US threat of new sanctions against Russia in the event of escalation or invasion, to which Mr Putin responded by warning that such a move could lead to a total severance of relations.

“That would be a colossal mistake with serious consequences,” said Yuri Ushakov. He added that Mr Putin had told Mr Biden that Russia would act as the US would if offensive weapons were stationed near US borders.

Ahead of Thursday’s 50-minute conversation, the White House indicated that Mr Biden would make it clear to Mr Putin that diplomatic avenues remain open, even though the Russians have moved an estimated 100,000 soldiers to Ukraine and Mr Putin his demands for security guarantees Eastern Europe.

But Mr Biden would reiterate to Mr Putin that, according to a senior official, the talks need to be “in a context of de-escalation rather than escalation” in order to make “real progress”.

The call, requested by Russian officials, comes as senior US and Russian officials are due to hold talks in Geneva on Jan. 10.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was unlikely that Mr Biden and Mr Putin, who met in Geneva in June to discuss a range of tensions in US-Russia relations, would not participate in upcoming talks would.

The two leaders held a video call earlier this month during which their conversation focused heavily on Russia’s troop movements that have unsettled Ukraine and other European allies.

In that December 7 video call, the White House said Biden had warned Moscow that an invasion of Ukraine would result in sanctions and enormous damage to the Russian economy. Russian officials have denied the sanctions threats.

Representatives from Moscow and NATO are expected to meet shortly after the upcoming Geneva talks, as will Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the United States.

Earlier this month Moscow presented draft security documents calling on NATO to refuse membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet states and to withdraw their military operations in Central and Eastern Europe.

The US and its allies have refused to offer Russia the kind of guarantees for Ukraine Putin wants, referring to the NATO principle that membership is open to any qualifying country. However, they agreed to hold talks with Russia to address its concerns.

As Mr Biden was preparing for talks with Mr Putin, the government also tried to underline its commitment to Ukraine and to demonstrate that Washington adheres to the “principle without you, nothing in itself” in shaping policy that affects its European allies to have ”feels obliged.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken had “reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s military build-up at Ukraine’s borders.”

Mr Biden and administrative officials also plan to consult with European allies after the President speaks with Mr Putin.

Putin said earlier this week that he would consider a number of options if the West fails to meet its demands for security guarantees that rule out NATO expansion into Ukraine.

In 2014, Russian troops invaded the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and seized the territory of Ukraine. Russia’s annexation of Crimea – one of President Barack Obama’s darkest moments on the international stage – looms as Mr Biden tries to contain the current crisis.

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