Biden-Putin Call a ‘Possibility’ Over Russian Army Buildup Near Ukraine

By Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino covers the White House.
December 3, 2021 Updated: December 3, 2021

White House officials say the Biden administration is considering the possibility of a phone call—between President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin—to address the massing of Russian troops at the border of Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have estimated more than 90,000 Russian troops are near its border and in Russian-occupied Crimea.

Biden said Dec. 3 that his administration was “putting together what I believe to be the most comprehensive, and meaningful, set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do.

“But that’s in play right now,” he told reporters in Washington.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki later reiterated the president’s statement, saying the U.S. wants to be prepared should Putin decide to invade Ukraine.

“We know what President Putin has done in the past.

“We see that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order and, should he decide to invade, that is why we want to be prepared,” Psaki said.

She wouldn’t say whether any U.S. preparations were military in nature, but said economic sanctions were part of a range of options the White House was considering, in coordination with Congress and European allies.

Psaki added a forthcoming Biden-Putin phone call was a “possibility.”

“It certainly would be an opportunity to discuss our serious concerns about the bellicose rhetoric, about the military buildup that we’re seeing on the border of Ukraine,” she said.

Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters Dec. 3 that arrangements have been made for a Putin-Biden call in the coming days, adding that the date will be announced after Moscow and Washington finalize details.

Ushakov noted that during a call with Biden, Putin would raise his demand for a legally binding agreement that would “exclude any further NATO expansion eastward, and the deployment of weapons systems that would threaten us on the territories of neighboring countries, including Ukraine.”

“NATO member countries decide who is a member of NATO, not Russia,” said Psaki. “And that is how the process has always been and how it will proceed.

“I think it’s important to remember where the provocative action is coming from at this point in time. It’s not the U.S. It’s not Ukraine.”

Biden and Putin held a bilateral summit in Geneva, Switzerland, in June.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Stockholm on Dec. 2, during the Organization for Security and Cooperation on Europe summit.

Blinken demanded that Russia pull back troops from the border with Ukraine, while Lavrov said that the West was “playing with fire” by denying Russia a say in any further NATO expansion into countries of the former Soviet Union.

Russia occupied Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas.

More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting.

AP News contributed to this report.

Nick Ciolino
Nick Ciolino covers the White House.