Biden, Putin Set Video Call For Next Week To Discuss Ukraine, Other Issues

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) U.S. President Joe Biden and last met face to face in Geneva in June.  

U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a secure video call on December 7 to discuss Ukraine and other topics, the White House and Kremlin have confirmed.

The virtual meeting comes amid growing international concern about Moscow’s intentions as NATO and Western military and intelligence officials cite a major Russian military buildup near the Ukrainian border.

Washington and Kyiv say Moscow has amassed tens of thousands of troops along with tanks and artillery in western Russia and could be planning an offensive as early as January.

Reuters quoted an unnamed administration official as saying Biden plans to stress U.S. concerns about the Russian military activity and U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

On December 2, Biden said he was working on a set of initiatives to make it "very, very difficult" for Putin to escalate militarily against Ukraine.

Ukraine has been fighting a seven-year war against Kremlin-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since Russia forcibly seized Crimea in 2014.

The unnamed White House official said Biden and Putin would also discuss a wide range of other topics.

Russia has lent diplomatic and military support to another former Soviet republic, Belarus, amid a 16-month crackdown on protests that followed the disputed reelection claim of Alyaksandr Lukashenka to a sixth presidential term.

A crisis has simmered at Belarus’s border with EU members Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland since Minsk increased direct flights from the Middle East in what the European Union has called a "weaponization" of third-country migrants.

While Ukraine has estimated around 95,000 Russian troops are currently near its borders, the U.S. intelligence assessment put the current number at 70,000 but predicted a potentially higher buildup.

U.S. officials have said they were uncertain of Russia’s motives and whether Putin has made the political-military decision to stage an offensive.

Some analysts say Russia is saber-rattling to extract concessions on potential NATO expansion — to say, Ukraine or Georgia — or weapons shipments to Ukraine.

At a NATO ministerial in Latvia on December 1, Secretary of State Antony Blinken threatened "a range of high impact economic measures that we’ve refrained from using in the past."

Biden and Putin met in June at Lake Geneva with bilateral relations at what both sides agreed were a post-Cold War low.

Putin has alluded to that meeting, demanding legally binding guarantees about security at its borders and ruling out the eastward expansion of NATO.

The Kremlin said on December 4 that the video call with Biden would include discussions of bilateral ties and the implementation of agreements reached at the Geneva summit.

The White House said this week that "NATO member states decide who is a member of NATO, not Russia."

Biden said on December 3 that his administration was in "constant contact" with Ukraine and European allies about the situation.

Moscow insists it is not a participant to the conflict in eastern Ukraine despite strong evidence of troop, weapons, and other forms of support for the separatists.

Tensions between the two post-Soviet neighbors have simmered amid the seven-year conflict, but skyrocketed amid reports of a Russian troop buildup in the spring and then again in recent weeks.

On December 3, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov told lawmakers that the country’s intelligence had assessed that the "likelihood of large-scale escalation by Russia exists."

"The most likely time to reach readiness for escalation will be the end of January," Reznikov said.

The Washington Post reported on December 3 that Washington and Moscow had quietly broken months of disagreement over the granting of Russian visas for U.S. Embassy personnel in a meeting in Vienna.

It quoted unnamed officials and said the agreement still had to be finalized.

Activists in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv this week demanded that authorities there search and close the premises of the local Russian Consulate, accusing the Russian diplomatic presence there of threatening Ukrainian security and illegally occupying the premises.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, and RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service

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