London, Thursday, 30 December 2021 -
Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin spoke candidly for nearly an hour late Thursday amid mounting concern over Russia's troop build-up near Ukraine, a simmering crisis that has recently escalated as the Kremlin has stiffened its demands for increased security guarantees and test-fired hypersonic missiles to bolster its demands.
Biden reinforced the US threat of further sanctions against Russia in the event of an escalation or invasion, according to Putin's foreign affairs adviser, to which Putin answered with a warning of his own, saying that such an action by the US may lead to a full rupture of ties.
The contact began at 3:35 p.m. EST and ended 50 minutes later, after midnight in Moscow, according to White House officials. Neither side had an instant response.
Russia has made it plain that it wants a written guarantee that Ukraine will never be admitted to NATO and that the alliance's military assets will not be stationed in former Soviet republics, both of which the Biden administration has stated are non-starters.
Even as the Russians have pushed an estimated 100,000 troops toward Ukraine and Kremlin officials have increased the volume on their requests for more guarantees from the US and NATO, the White House indicated ahead of the talk that Biden will tell Putin that a diplomatic option remains open.
Those requests will be considered during the Geneva talks, but it's unclear what Biden would be willing to give Putin in exchange for defusing the crisis.
In a security draft document, Moscow demanded that Ukraine and other former Soviet republics be denied NATO membership and that NATO's military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe be reduced.
The US and its allies have refused to give Putin the guarantees on Ukraine that he seeks, citing NATO's concept that membership is available to any country that meets certain criteria. However, they agreed to meet with Russia to discuss its concerns.
The Russian security plan has raised the question of whether Putin is making unrealistic demands in the hopes of a Western rejection, which would give him a pretext to invade.
(Reporting by: The Decision Maker – International Relations editors)