Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin video calls provide threats, diplomacy over Ukraine’s troop build-up

“It would be a colossal mistake that would have serious consequences,” Ushakov said. He added that Putin told Biden that Russia would act as the United States would if offensive weapons were deployed near US borders.

Putin requested the call, the second between leaders this month, ahead of scheduled talks between senior U.S. and Russian officials scheduled for Jan. 10 in Geneva.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on 31 December.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on 31 December.Credit:AP

“President Biden reiterated that significant progress in these dialogues can only take place in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

Ushakov said the call created a “good backdrop” for future talks. They will also include a Russia-NATO session on 12 January and a broader conference, including Moscow, Washington and other European countries, scheduled for 13 January.

Moscow has alerted the West by gathering tens of thousands of troops near the border with Ukraine in the past two months, following its conquest of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and its support for separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.

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Russia refuses to plan to attack Ukraine, saying it has the right to move its troops on its own soil as it pleases.

Concerned about what it says is the West’s rearmament of Ukraine, Moscow has said it wants legally binding guarantees that NATO will not expand further east and that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed to Ukraine or other neighboring countries.

Draft security documents presented by Moscow require NATO to deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and withdraw its military missions in Central and Eastern Europe.

The United States and its allies have refused to offer Russia the kind of guarantees to Ukraine that Putin wants, citing NATO’s principle that membership is open to any qualified country. However, they agreed to hold talks with Russia to discuss its concerns.

U.S. concerns have not ebbed in recent weeks, according to a senior Biden administration official, despite a report over the weekend that Russia would withdraw about 10,000 troops from its border with Ukraine. Other officials said they have seen little evidence that Russia is withdrawing from the border.

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The security proposal from Moscow has raised the question of whether Putin makes unrealistic demands in anticipation of a Western rejection that would give him a pretext to invade.

Biden and Putin, who met in Geneva in June to discuss a range of tensions between the United States and Russia, are not expected to take part in the January talks. They also spoke at video calls on December 7, where Biden, the White House said, alerted Moscow that an invasion of Ukraine would result in sanctions and enormous damage to the Russian economy. Russian officials have denied the threat of sanctions.

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