Biden to offer ‘diplomatic channel’ to Putin in new Ukraine crisis call

President Joe Biden will offer his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin a diplomatic channel on the Ukraine crisis in a phone call Thursday, a US official said, setting the tone for security talks next month.

It will be the second phone call in less than a month between the two leaders, Biden having warned in early December Putin of the “serious consequences” of an attack by Russian troops on the Ukrainian border.

Biden, who is at his home in Delaware for the New Years holiday, will say “we are prepared for diplomacy and a diplomatic route,” a senior administration official told reporters.

“But we are also ready to react if Russia advances with a new invasion of Ukraine,” Biden will tell Putin, the official said, adding that “we continue to be gravely concerned” about Russian forces near the border. Ukrainian border.

Washington “would like to see a return of forces to their regular training areas.”

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

Russia has sent tens of thousands of troops to the border with Ukraine, according to Western officials who fear a repeat of 2014 when Moscow seized the Crimean peninsula and a pro-Russian insurgency erupted in eastern Ukraine, killing more than 13,000.

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

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

The United States has called some of the Russian positions a non-starting point, but said it is willing to speak up and will raise its own concerns as well.

The dialogue began when Putin and Biden met in Geneva in June. U.S. officials at the time were at least seeking greater predictability in strained relations with Russia hopes dashed by the latest troop movements.

The administration official made it clear that there were no plans for another in-person summit.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has promised that Moscow will take a “hard line” in the Geneva talks to defend its interests.

Reassure Ukraine

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

“I was assured of full US support for Ukraine in countering Russian aggression,” Zelenskiy tweeted afterward.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s military build-up at the borders of Ukraine “.

The Biden administration is committed to taking all measures in close collaboration with its European allies. After the Geneva talks, Russian delegates will meet with delegates from the NATO alliance ahead of a meeting of the Organization 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 overthrow of a government in Kiev that had resisted calls to draw closer to the West.

Biden did not say what new measures could be put in place, but reports indicate the United States may take steps to disconnect Russia from the SWIFT system that connects the world’s banks, a blow to a leading economy. plan.

Fearing Russia, Ukraine as well as the former Soviet republic of Georgia sought to join NATO, although European members made it clear that they were not keen on joining.

Christi C. Elwood