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Biden, Putin to hold new phone call amid Ukraine standoff

By AFP - Dec 29,2021 - Last updated at Dec 29,2021

This combination of file photos created on December 6 shows US President Joe Biden during a signing ceremony at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 18; and Russian President Vladimir Putin in a congress of the United Russia Party in Moscow, on December 4 (AFP photo)

WASHINGTON — Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak by telephone on Thursday amid high tension on Ukraine, setting the tone for US-Russia security talks next month, the two nations announced.

It will be the second telephone call in less than a month between the two leaders, with Biden in early December warning Putin of “severe consequences” if Russia invades Ukraine.

Biden, who is at his home in Delaware for the New Year’s holiday, will speak to Putin on Thursday about “a range of topics, including upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia”, said Emily Horne, spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

“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,” she said in a statement Wednesday.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed the call, saying it would take place Thursday evening Russian time.

Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the border with Ukraine, according to Western officials who fear a repeat of 2014 when Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula and a pro-Russia insurgency broke out in eastern Ukraine that has left more than 13,000 people dead.

In a potential step to defuse tensions, senior US and Russian officials plan to meet on January 10 in Geneva.

The meeting comes after Russia offered proposals to the United States that included calls not to expand NATO eastward or to set up bases in former Soviet republics.

The United States has called some of the Russian positions non-starters but said it is willing to talk and will also address its own concerns.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow in the talks would take a “hard line” aimed at defending its interests and avoiding “concessions”.

Reassuring Ukraine 

Ahead of the US-Russia talks, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone on Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The top US diplomat “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.

“The two discussed efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia,” he said.

The Biden administration has vowed to take all actions in lockstep with its European allies. Following the Geneva talks, Russian delegates will meet with delegates of the NATO alliance ahead of a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a key Cold War forum that brings together Moscow and the West.

Russia has already been under sanctions since its 2014 actions in Ukraine, which came in response to the toppling of a government in Kiev that had resisted calls to move closer to the West.

Biden has not spelled out what new measures could be in place, but reports say the United States could move to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT system that connects the world’s banks, a major blow for a leading economy.

Fearful of Russia, Ukraine as well as former Soviet republic Georgia have sought to join NATO although European members have made clear that they are not enthusiastic about their accession.

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