The prospect of conflict between Russia and Ukraine persists after President Joe Biden spoke with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin via a video call.
Biden emphasized his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and implored Russia to deescalate tensions and return to diplomacy, according to the White House after the president's two-hour conversation with Putin.
"President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the U.S. and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation," a readout said.
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For his part, Putin expressed opposition to eastward expansion of NATO and insisted there be no offensive weapons placed by U.S. allies in Ukraine. He invoked the U.S.-Soviet alliance against the Axis in World War II.
The two sides committed to keeping in close contact after Russia deployed roughly 100,000 troops to the Ukraine border, a demonstration of strength speculated to be in protest of a potential expansion of NATO to include Ukraine.
Photographs and video footage released by the Kremlin depicted a relaxed Putin at the start of the call, which the Russian took from his vacation home. Biden logged in from the White House's Situation Room.
A senior administration official had previewed that Biden and Putin would discuss Russia's military buildup on its border with Ukraine, as well as cybersecurity and Iran nuclear deal negotiations.
The official insisted that Biden did not seek conflict with Russia and that U.S. intelligence had not determined Putin would invade, but the source likened the personnel and equipment movement to that made before his 2014 annexation of Crimea.
"In the event of an invasion, the need to reinforce the confidence and reassurance of our NATO allies and their eastern flank allies would be real, and the United States would be prepared to provide that kind of reassurance," the official said.
Biden and Putin last met face to face six months ago during their Switzerland summit. Biden opened Tuesday's call by mentioning Putin's absence at last month's G-20 gathering in Italy and the U.N. climate conference held in the United Kingdom.
Biden, who huddled with trans-Atlantic allies before the call, briefed leaders from France, Germany, Italy, and the U.K. after its conclusion. He is also expected to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Secretary of State Antony Blinken talked to Zelensky before the call.
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"The leaders underscored their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the need for Russia to reduce tensions and engage in diplomacy," according to a readout of the call with European leaders released by the White House. "They agreed their teams will stay in close touch, including in consultation with NATO allies and EU partners, on a coordinated and comprehensive approach."