US President Joe Biden will speak with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Thursday, the White House has announced, as the leaders work to address continuing tensions over Russia’s military buildup near Ukraine.
In a statement on Wednesday, the White House’s National Security Council said Biden and Putin would have a phone call to discuss “a range of topics, including upcoming diplomatic engagements”.
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“The Biden Administration continues to engage in extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners, consulting and coordinating on a common approach in response to Russia’s military build-up on the border with Ukraine,” the statement said.
The announcement comes days after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russian diplomats and military officials would take part in talks with the United States in January on a list of security guarantees Moscow wants from Washington.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council told the AFP news agency late on Monday that those talks would take place on January 10. Moscow and NATO representatives are also expected to meet on January 12, while the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which includes Russia and the US, will address the tensions the following day.
Tensions have been simmering between Russia and Western nations in recent weeks after the Russian government positioned tens of thousands of troops near the country’s shared border with Ukraine.
The military deployment – the second such move this year – raised concerns Moscow may be plotting an imminent invasion of its neighbour. But the Kremlin has denied that it plans to make an incursion into Ukraine.
A senior US administration official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity on Wednesday, said Biden would tell Putin in their phone call that the US was “prepared for diplomacy and for a diplomatic path forward”.
“But we are also prepared to respond if Russia advances with a further invasion of Ukraine”, Biden will tell Putin, the official said, adding that “we continue to be gravely concerned” by Russian forces near the Ukrainian border.
Putin has accused the West of undermining the security situation in the region through the expansion of NATO and Ukraine’s growing ties with the alliance – developments Moscow claims threaten Russia and contravene assurances given to it as the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
Earlier this month, Russia published draft security pacts demanding that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back the deployment of troops and weapons in central and eastern Europe.
The proposals were submitted to the US and its allies but contain elements – such as an effective Russian veto on future NATO membership for Ukraine – that the West has already ruled out.
NATO’s secretary-general emphasised on December 17 that any security talks with Moscow would need to take into account the alliance’s concerns and involve Ukraine and other partners.
For its part, the Biden administration has repeatedly said that only NATO members decide when other nations join the security alliance – and that all countries have the right to determine their future without outside interference.
During the past several weeks, senior US officials have urged Russia not to take “aggressive” moves against Ukraine, saying Washington and its allies were prepared to impose harsh economic measures against Moscow should it invade.
In a video conference with Putin on December 7, Biden also warned the Russian president against any “military escalation” with Ukraine, urging him instead to take a path of diplomacy.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday.
“Secretary Blinken reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s borders,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement. “The two discussed efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia.”
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and shortly after supported a separatist rebellion in the country’s east, plunging relations between Moscow and the West to post-Cold War lows.
The fighting in Ukraine’s industrial heartland, known as the Donbas, has killed more than 14,000 people to date, according to the Ukrainian government.