In a 50-minute phone call Thursday afternoon, President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the choices they face concerning the standoff on the Russia-Ukraine border. The tone was serious, both sides said, with Axios reporting that a US official called the talk "substantive" and Kremlin officials said it was "constructive." The leaders also laid the groundwork for security talks beginning Jan. 10. Thursday's call was at Russia's request; Biden and Putin also talked for two hours earlier this month.
Biden told the Russian leader that real progress in negotiations could be made "only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, per the Hill. She said Biden "made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine." Russia has said it doesn't plan to invade Ukraine, but it has issued a series of demands in return, including that NATO not expand to the east. The US has already rejected some of the demands, per Axios.
A US official said Biden told Putin his choices are a "path of diplomacy," which would focus on de-escalation, or a "path more focused on deterrence," which would bring major sanctions and more NATO activity in the region if there's an invasion. A Kremlin official said Russia "will behave the way the United States would behave if offensive weapons were deployed near American borders." Sanctions would be a "colossal mistake," an aide said Putin threatened, and risk US-Russian relations, per CNN. "A lot of such mistakes have been made over the past 30 years," said Putin aide Yury Ushakov, "and it is advisable not to make such mistakes again." (Read more US-Russia relations stories.)