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White House Says Biden Delivered Warning to Putin

President has 2-hour talk with Putin, with escalating tension in Ukraine the top subject
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2021 2:09 PM CST
Updated Dec 7, 2021 9:15 PM CST
Biden Has One of His Biggest Meetings Yet
Ukrainian soldiers on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels near Debaltsevo, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Friday, Dec 3, 2021.   (AP Photo/Andriy Dubchak)

(Newser) Update: President Biden warned Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that invading Ukraine would bring a response far beyond the reaction to Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014, potentially ruining Russia's economy, officials say. In the two-hour video call, Biden told Putin that the US and its European allies would respond to escalation with "strong economic measures," says National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. He says Biden also warned that the US would provide Ukraine with additional assistance and "fortify our NATO allies on the eastern flank." The Kremlin said Putin had warned Biden that Western military activity in and near Ukraine was approaching what Russia considers a "red line," the New York Times reports. Both sides described the conversation as "candid." Our rundown from earlier today follows:

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The conversation began with cordial greetings and smiles, though news stories were presenting it as one of the biggest foreign policy challenges to date for President Biden. He and Vladimir Putin spoke via video for two hours on Tuesday, with escalating tensions in Ukraine at the top of the agenda. (Only the opening greetings were made available to reporters.) No immediate breakthroughs were reported, or even expected for that matter. Coverage:

  • Biden's message: The West fears Russia is getting ready to invade its neighbor, and the White House said after the meeting that Biden "made clear that the US and our allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation," per the BBC. "President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy."

  • The troops: Russia has been massing tens of thousands troops on the border of late and is expected to have 175,000 in place soon, reports NPR. The worst-case fear is that Putin is preparing to invade and help overthrow Ukraine's Western-backed president, Volodymyr Zelensky. Putin denies this. Moscow did not immediately issue a statement about the talks.
  • The background: This conflict has been simmering since 2014, explains the Wall Street Journal. After Ukrainians ditched a Moscow-friendly president, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and is widely believed to be supporting pro-Moscow separatists in a war that has claimed about 14,000 lives. Russia says Ukraine isn't living up to promises to give autonomy to separatist regions, while Ukraine says the separatists routinely ignore cease-fire terms set in 2015.
  • Russia's view: Putin sees "eastward expansion as an existential threat" and doesn't want Ukraine to be the next phase of that, per the New York Times. He wants guarantees that Ukraine will not be allowed to join the alliance, a demand the AP calls a "non-starter" for the White House. The Journal suggests that Putin may not want to retake Ukraine but keep it out of NATO so it serves as a "buffer" between East and West. The massing of troops may be Putin's attempt to gain leverage on the NATO question.
(Read more Vladimir Putin stories.)

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