President Joe Biden spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by phone on Tuesday and proposed the two estranged leaders meet at a summit in a third country to discuss a raft of disputes, the White House said.
The Kremlin said Wednesday it was premature to talk in tangible terms about a possible summit, saying it would consider Biden's proposal.
The call between the two presidents—officially only the second since Biden took office—took place as Western powers have grown increasingly alarmed at Russian troop buildup near the Ukrainian border, with fears that a rash move by Moscow or Kyiv could spark an outbreak of fresh hostilities.
Tensions have grown in recent weeks in Donbass, eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled Russian-backed separatists in a simmering seven-year conflict that Kyiv says has killed 14,000 people.
"The president voiced our concerns over the sudden Russian military build-up in occupied Crimea and on Ukraine’s borders, and called on Russia to deescalate tensions," the statement noted.
Kyiv has raised the alarm over a buildup of Russian forces near its eastern border, and over a rise in violence along the line of contact separating Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in Donbass. The Kremlin denies its troops are a threat, but says they will remain as long as it sees fit.
On the same day Zelensky visited the frontline, senior Kremlin official Dmitry Kozak said Russia would be forced to defend its citizens in eastern Ukraine depending on the scale of the military conflict there and accused Zelensky of "playing with fire" and of whipping up anti-Russia sentiment with his tour.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Russian military has deployed two armies and three airborne formations to its western regions “as a response to the alliance’s military activities threatening Russia.” Russia has regularly accused NATO of destabilizing Europe with its troop reinforcements in the Baltics and Poland since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his French and German counterparts on Friday called on Russia to halt a troop buildup and reaffirmed their support for Kyiv in its confrontation with Moscow.
Biden, in his call with Putin, also reaffirmed a goal to build "a stable and predictable relationship" with Russia and said a summit could address "the full range of issues" facing the two powers.