President Biden and Vladimir Putin were on the phone on Thursday, the second face-to-face conversation between the two leaders in the past three weeks, while the Russian leader continues to seek reassurances from the West before withdrawing troops along his country’s border with Ukraine.
The 50-minute phone call, which a senior civil servant described as “serious and substantial,” yielded no breakthroughs. Rather, it is an opportunity for both heads of state and government to “determine the tone and tone of the upcoming diplomatic engagement” before the planned talks at the beginning of next month, the official said.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement that Biden has “urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine. He made it clear that the United States and its allies and partners will react decisively if Russia continues to invade Ukraine. “
In his support for diplomacy prior to the Geneva talks, the President reiterated “that substantial progress in these dialogues can only be achieved in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” added Psaki.
Government officials said they did not know why Putin tried to speak to Biden, who warned his Russian counterpart in a video call on December 7 not to invade Ukraine. Neither leader will participate directly in the bilateral talks that begin in Geneva on January 10th.
The White House remains confident that talks and the clear threat of harsh economic sanctions by the US and its European allies would be enough to deter Putin from raiding his country’s neighbor. But in the three weeks since his first conversation with Biden, Putin has done little to signal which direction he could go by holding but not yet attacking the roughly 100,000 Russian troops along the Ukrainian border.
In the meantime, he continues to demand security guarantees from NATO as he is suspicious of the alliance’s increasing intervention in support of the Ukrainian defense.
“The Kremlin has a strong incentive to create confusion about what exactly it is doing,” said Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a New York-based global risk assessment firm.
According to the government official who briefed reporters after the call, Biden again made it clear to Putin that the US is consulting closely with NATO allies and that it will remain up to Russia to decide whether the situation is resolved diplomatically or a full economic one The solution risks sanctions through attacks on Ukraine.
“Our focus right now is really on measures and indicators, not words,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the leaders’ call. “Therefore, we will continue to monitor the movement and build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border very closely and prepare for any decision that will ultimately be made by the Russian President.”