Biden pushes Putin to de-escalate Ukraine in second appeal this month

The 50-minute phone call did not yield any major breakthroughs, US and Russian officials later said, but did set the tone for upcoming face-to-face diplomatic talks between the two sides.

Putin again gave little clue as to his intentions on Thursday, officials said after the call ended. Instead, the two men had what a US official described as a “serious and substantial” discussion, in which Biden charted two paths for Putin as he continued to amass Russian troops in the border with Ukraine: one a diplomatic route to de-escalation and another focused on deterrence through economic sanctions, strengthening the presence of US troops on NATO’s eastern flank and increasing assistance to Ukraine.

Which path is chosen “will depend on Russia’s actions over the coming period,” the official said, saying there would be “serious costs and consequences” if Russia continued its regional aggression.

Putin responded with a terrible warning, a Kremlin aide said. He told Biden that introducing a new round of sanctions against Russia would amount to a “colossal mistake” that could lead to a complete breakdown in relations between the two countries.

“Many such mistakes have been made over the past 30 years,” said Russian Presidential Assistant Yury Ushakov, “and it is advisable not to make such mistakes again.”

Biden also told Putin that the United States did not intend to deploy offensive weapons in Ukraine, Ushakov said.

Putin “noted that this is one of the key points included in the project [on security guarantees Russia seeks]”, added Ushakov.

No less than 100,000 Russian troops remained amassed at the Ukrainian border, despite warnings from Biden and European leaders of grave consequences if Putin went ahead with an invasion. U.S. officials also said Moscow was engaged in a massive disinformation campaign aimed at undermining the Ukrainian government ahead of that country’s national elections.

Biden made the call from his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Biden-Putin talks take place about two weeks before U.S. and Russian diplomats meet in Geneva to discuss the ongoing crisis. In the run-up to these talks, Russia has publicly presented a list of security concerns and demands it wants addressed, including a pledge that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that Russia will never be allowed to join NATO. military equipment of the alliance is not positioned in its former Soviet states. .

The United States has prepared its own list of concerns, a senior US administration official told reporters on Wednesday, but has no plans to make it public. Instead, Biden’s advisers believe it will be more fruitful to keep the negotiations private.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman will lead the U.S. delegation to the talks, which are slated for Jan. 10, multiple sources familiar with the matter told CNN. Biden and Putin shouldn’t participate themselves. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov will lead the Russian delegation. Pentagon and National Security Council officials will also participate in the talks on the US side, a senior administration official said on Wednesday.

The direct US-Russian talks will be followed by broader meetings between NATO and Russia, as well as a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, where a range of topics are under discussion.

The United States has pledged to keep Western European countries and Ukraine itself informed as Biden diplomatically engages Putin. Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday, and White House officials said they were in almost daily contact with their counterparts in the UK, France and Germany to coordinate their approach.

“There is significant security coordination between Ukraine and the United States and coordination has only intensified in recent weeks,” said an adviser to Zelensky.

The United States has succeeded in convincing its allies to prepare a package of tough sanctions, including against some of Putin’s main allies, as part of a coordinated approach. U.S. officials have said the punishment will be far more severe than the sanctions applied in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.

Since the last time Biden spoke to Putin, there is no indication that Russia is easing its position on the border with Ukraine, although a senior administration official has said the situation is fluid.

“It’s not entirely static from our point of view,” the official said. “What the Russians have put in place in and around this border area remains a continuing source of serious concern.”

The Russian build-up has included troops, artillery, vehicles and supply lines, officials said previously. Earlier this week, Russia announced it would withdraw 10,000 troops from their regular barracks. But U.S. officials have suggested the move does not amount to major de-escalation.

In the meantime, the United States has maintained its own position in the region. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman and his escort ships to remain in the Mediterranean region rather than sail to the Middle East as part of an effort to reassure the allies Europeans.

Ahead of Thursday’s discussion, the US Air Force flew over another spy plane over eastern Ukraine to gather intelligence on the military situation on the ground, a source close to the mission told CNN. .

This was the second time this week that the United States has conducted such a mission using the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).

The maiden flight on Monday marked the first time a JSTARS aircraft had flown over the area, Lt. Cmdr. Russ Wolfkiel, spokesman for the United States European Command, told CNN. Wolfkiel told CNN that the United States “regularly operates planes in the Black Sea region in support of various U.S. and coalition intelligence objectives,” but the flights come as the United States attempts to collect intelligence on Russian troop movements along the Ukrainian border.

The JSTARS system can track ground vehicles as they move, collect images, and transmit photos and traces of moving formations to ground and air commanders, allowing the United States and its allies to monitor the position of Russian forces. An on-board antenna has a 120-degree field of view that can cover nearly 20,000 square miles to monitor ground movement, according to an Air Force fact sheet, and can also detect aircraft.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when the first surveillance flight over eastern Ukraine took place. It was Monday.

This story has been updated with more details.

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand and Anna Chernova contributed to this report.

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