Chris Lange, FISM News
President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a second call Thursday amid rising geopolitical tension concerning threats to Ukraine’s sovereignty. The discussion follows their Dec. 7 video conference.
The call, purportedly requested by Putin, is scheduled to take place at 3:30 p.m. EST, during which time the two world leaders will discuss a “range of security and strategic issues,” according to a senior Biden administration official. The impromptu meeting comes ahead of scheduled Jan. 12 talks between Russia and NATO and a larger meeting between Moscow, Washington, and other European countries the following day. U.S. and Russian officials previously agreed to hold security talks Jan. 10, though President Biden is not expected to be present.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said Wednesday that Biden has had discussions with European leaders concerning the Kremlin’s massive military buildup at the Ukrainian border, according to Reuters. She added that administration officials have also been in touch with the European Union, NATO, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Moscow has amassed roughly 100,000 troops at the border over the past two months, alarming Western leaders. Putin denies a planned attack, stating that he can move his troops within Russia’s borders as he pleases.
Another senior Biden administration official, who did not wish to be identified, said a report coming out of Russia announcing plans to pull back a tenth of those troops has done little to assuage concerns, particularly as there appears to be little evidence the Kremlin has made good on the statement.
“We are at a moment of crisis and have been for some weeks now given the Russian buildup, and it will take a high level of engagement to address this and to find a path of de-escalation,” the official said.
Ahead of Thursday’s call, Putin has demanded legally-binding guarantees that NATO will not further expand eastward. Moscow, accusing the West of “re-arming” Ukraine, also wants assurances that certain offensive weapons – namely, missiles – will not be deployed to Ukraine or its neighbors.
Biden is likely to reassert his previous warning that the U.S. will enact swift economic measures against Russia if it invades Ukraine; however, he has been promoting direct diplomacy as an alternative. Horne said the White House has engaged in ongoing discussions with Ukraine and several NATO allies. Biden is also expected to speak again with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelinsky soon.
At this time, it is unclear why Putin requested the call ahead of the scheduled January talks. A senior administration official told Fox News that Biden will “make clear” to Putin that “we are prepared for diplomacy” but will warn that “we are also prepared to respond if Russia advances with a further invasion of Ukraine.”
Former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) intelligence officer for Russian doctrine and strategy, Rebekah Koffler, told Fox that it is not a matter of if Putin invades Ukraine, but when.
“He’s convinced the U.S.’s long-term goal is to basically fracture Russia,” she said, pointing to Putin’s fear that Ukraine will join NATO. Koffler said she believes Putin’s request for a call ahead of the January talks may be an attempt to “warn Biden to stay out of it.”
“It seems to be an urgent call,” she added. “Putin is readying for war, and he will strike Ukraine soon.”
Ukraine is currently a NATO partner but not a member of the Alliance, meaning that it does not fall under Article 5 protections of the Washington Collective Defense Treaty. The West has repeatedly said it will not block Ukraine from membership if requested.
FISM previously reported that sources inside the White House have hinted that Ukraine may be asked to give up some of its territory in an effort to appease the Kremlin. Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014.