Biden & Putin Hold Call For Second Time This Month Amid Rising Tensions

Biden & Putin Hold Call For Second Time This Month Amid Rising Tensions

Putin warns of cutting ties with U.S. if hit with sanctions

Mona Salama
Mona Salama
December 30, 2021

President Biden, in his second call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Thursday, urged the Kremlin leader to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine, warning the U.S. will respond "decisively" with dire economic consequences should Moscow proceed with an invasion.

In a 50-minute call, their second conversation this month, Biden again reiterated the need to see Russia take steps to ease its military build-up near Ukraine while Putin responded to his U.S. counterpart's threats, warning sanctions threatened by Washington and allies could lead to a rupture in ties.

"Biden urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine. He made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine," Psaki said in a readout statement following the call. "President Biden reiterated that substantive progress in these dialogues can occur only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation."

Thursday's call began at 3:35 p.m. Eastern time and ended at 4:25 p.m. According to a senior administration official, the tone between the two leaders was considered "serious and substantive." Biden's primary purpose was to talk to Putin to "set the tone and tenor" for upcoming security negations in Geneva, Switzerland, in January.

"Biden laid out two paths," including diplomacy and deterrence, including "serious costs and consequences," a senior administration official said.

"Both leaders acknowledged that there were likely to be areas where we could make the meaningful progress as well as areas where agreements may be impossible and that the upcoming talks would determine more precisely the contours of each of those categories," the official added.

But Putin, according to the Kremlin aide, "immediately responded" to Biden's dire warning, stating that any sanctions now or later would amount to a "colossal mistake that would entail grave consequences" and lead "to a complete breakdown in ties between our countries."

"A lot of such mistakes have been made over the past 30 years," Ushakov said, "and it is advisable not to make such mistakes again. Our president also mentioned that it would be a mistake that our descendants would see as a huge error."

Nonetheless, the call did not yield any major breakthroughs. The U.S. and Russian officials said afterward that both sides described the tone of the phone call as "serious," with neither country providing any details or outline of significant progress towards a resolution or deal.

Putin requested the telephone call earlier this week with Biden eager to oblige. Biden conducted the call from his home in Wilmington, Delaware, where he has spent the last few days of 2021 instead of the White House as multiple crises ensue.

The two leaders had last spoken on Dec. 7 in a videoconference call that ended with no indication Russia was preparing to de-escalate. The call came as Russia's build-up of troops near the Ukrainian border sparked fears that Moscow may be planning to invade Ukraine again. Since Biden last spoke to Putin, there have not been indications Russia is easing its posture on the border with Ukraine, though a senior administration official said the situation was fluid.

During the Dec. 7 call, the Kremlin unveiled his demands to Biden that included demanding that NATO not expand eastward and roll back military deployments.

"It is not entirely static from our perspective," the Biden official told reporters. "It remains a continuing source of grave concern what the Russians have been putting in place in and around that border area."

According to multiple reports, ahead of the discussion on Thursday, the U.S. Air Force flew another spy plane over eastern Ukraine to gather intelligence about the military situation on the ground. The first flight, which occurred Monday, marked the first time an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft had ever flown over the region. The flight was for the U.S to try and collect intelligence about Russia's troop movements along the Ukraine border.

Officials from the U.S. and Russia are slated to meet on Jan. 10 for a security meeting to discuss Moscow's stepped-up security demands. That same week, officials are also slated to meet with NATO on Jan. 12 and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Permanent Council for a broader conference including Moscow, Washington, and other European countries slated for Jan. 13.

Moving forward, the U.S. will use the days ahead of the upcoming "security meetings" to continue its "intensive period" of consultations with allies and the Ukrainian government, the administration official notion, which would include briefing allies, including Ukraine, on Thursday's call.

Mona Salama

Mona Salama

Mona Salama is a political reporter for The Floridian covering Congress, the White House and Congressional elections.

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