President Joe Biden is speaking with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in a high-stakes diplomatic effort on Tuesday morning to de-escalate a crisis over Ukraine. Tens of thousands of Russian troops are amassed along the Ukrainian border – raising fears of an invasion. Even if he does not plan to invade Ukraine, Putin may be wagering that Biden’s preoccupation with matters like the coronavirus pandemic and competition with China will make him inclined to strike a deal.
Biden officials said the call with Putin, like the meeting the two leaders held in Geneva in June, would cover several other issues, including nuclear arms control, cybersecurity and Iran’s nuclear program. One of the most pivotal foreign policy meetings of Biden’s still-young presidency, the President was set to lay out to Putin what sanctions and other actions the US could take if the Russian President decides to invade Ukraine.
Biden plans to tell Putin the US is prepared to take “substantive economic countermeasures” meant to inflict “significant and severe economic harm on the Russian economy” should Putin go ahead with a military escalation, a senior administration official told reporters Monday. The administration is also exploring options for a potential evacuation of US citizens from Ukraine if Russia were to invade the country and create a dire security situation.
The two began their conversation via video-link at 10:07 a.m., according to the White House. “Greetings, Mr. President!” Mr. Putin said at the start of the call, according to a brief video of the opening moments.
“Good to see you again,” Mr. Biden responded warmly, after what appeared to be a brief connection glitch. “Unfortunately last time we didn’t get to see one another at the G20. I am hoping next time we meet we do it in person.” Putin was seated at a long wooden desk, with Biden on a large video screen in front of him, and waved to Biden as the call began, according to brief footage of the videoconference released by Russian state television. Mr. Putin took the call from his residence in Sochi, the Russian resort city on the Black Sea. The virtual meeting is a crucial test for Biden and his Democratic allies. Putin has complained that Ukraine poses a threat to Russia through its close military and political ties to the United States and European powers.
Complicating matters for Joe Biden is European uncertainty about how to handle Putin’s newest threats. European nations are dependent on Russia for much of their energy supplies, and their economies stand to suffer if relations with Russia deteriorate further. The Biden administration has been negotiating with European leaders in an effort to unify around which punishments could be inflicted on Russia for any new aggression.