Biden, Putin set stage for security talks

President Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone for nearly an hour on Thursday as both leaders sought to set the stage for upcoming security talks.

The primary purpose of the 50-minute call Thursday was to “set the tone and tenor” for the upcoming negations in Geneva, Switzerland, a senior administration official told reporters.

Officials from the U.S. and Russia are slated to meet Jan. 10 to discuss Moscow’s stepped-up security demands. That same week, Russian officials will also meet with NATO and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Permanent Council.

The Kremlin released its demands earlier this month, as Russia’s buildup of troops near the Ukrainian border sparked fears that Moscow may be planning to invade again like it did in the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

Moscow has repeatedly denied intentions to invade Ukraine, and among other things is demanding that NATO not expand eastward and also roll back military deployments.

Russia is also calling for all sides to agree not to deploy land-based intermediate and short-range missiles in areas that allow them to reach other parties.

During their previous call Dec. 7, Biden warned Putin of high economic consequences if Russia were to invade Ukraine.

Thursday’s call began at 3:35 p.m. ET and ended at 4:25 p.m. The tone between the two leaders was “serious and substantive,” the administration official said, and they agreed to the sequence of the upcoming talks.

The two leaders also acknowledged that there would be areas where meaningful progress could be made, and that agreeing on other areas may be impossible.

“They both discuss the importance of pragmatic, results oriented diplomacy and I think President Biden very much saw this call as seeking to set the conditions for that,” the official said.

Still, Biden urged Putin to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine, according to a readout of the call from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

Biden “made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” Psaki said, adding he “reiterated that substantive progress in these dialogues can occur only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation.”

Moving forward, the U.S. will take the next week to continue its “intensive period” of consultations with allies and the Ukrainian government, the administration official said, which would include briefing allies on the call.