Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin spoke Thursday amid growing alarm over Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine, a simmering crisis that has become even more heated in recent days as the Kremlin has stepped up its calls for security guarantees and test-fired hypersonic missiles to underscore its demands.
Putin requested the call, the second between the leaders this month, ahead of scheduled talks between senior U.S. and Russian officials set for January 10th in Geneva. The White House said ahead of the call that President Biden would tell Putin that “a diplomatic path remains open” even as the Russians have moved an estimated 100,000 troops toward Ukraine and Kremlin officials have turned up the volume on its demands for new guarantees from the U.S. and NATO.
White House officials said that the call began at 3:35 p.m. EST and concluded 50 minutes later, after midnight in Moscow. There was no immediate readout from either side.
The phone call between Biden and Putin is over. And no one in the president’s Delaware home has to eat the interpreter’s notes.
— Barbara Malmet (@B52Malmet) December 30, 2021
Russia has made clear it wants a written commitment that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance’s military equipment will not be positioned in former Soviet states, demands that the Biden administration has made clear are non-starters. Those demands are to be discussed during the talks in Geneva, but it remains unclear what, if anything, President Biden would be willing to offer Putin in exchange for defusing the crisis.
NEW: Pres. Biden to speak to Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin tomorrow to "discuss a range of topics, including upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia," White House says. https://t.co/Oaq8LHFU2F pic.twitter.com/kUKa5K9W3N
— ABC News (@ABC) December 29, 2021
The U.S. and its allies have refused to offer Russia the kind of guarantees on Ukraine that Putin wants, citing NATO’s principle that membership is open to any qualifying country. They agreed, however, to hold talks with Russia to discuss its concerns. President Biden and Putin, who met in Geneva in June to discuss an array of tensions in the U.S.-Russia relationship, are not expected to take part in the January talks.
The White House has released this photo of President Biden on the phone with President Putin, at his home in Wilmington, Delaware.
The call started at 3:35pm ET. pic.twitter.com/cFClpQRgIv
— Jeremy Diamond (@JDiamond1) December 30, 2021
Key NATO members have made clear there is no appetite for expanding the alliance in the near future. The U.S. and allies could also be receptive to language in the Russians’ draft document calling for establishing new consultative mechanisms, such as the NATO-Russia Council and a hotline between NATO and Russia.
The US Air Force flew another spy plane over eastern Ukraine on Thursday morning to gather intel about the Russian military situation on the ground, per source. It was the second time this week that the US carried out such a mission & came just hours before Biden's call w/Putin.
— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) December 30, 2021
U.S. intelligence earlier this month determined that Russian planning was underway for a possible military offensive that could begin as soon as early 2022, but that Putin had yet to determine whether to move forward with it.