WASHINGTON D.C., Dec 7, 2021, CNN. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for about two hours over a secure video call on Tuesday in what had been expected to be a highly consequential meeting for the two leaders amid escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, CNN reported.
A White House statement on the call said 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 US and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation.”
He also “reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy,” the White House said.
The two presidents tasked their respective teams with following up on their discussions, with the White House adding that “the US will do so in close coordination with allies and partners.”
In addition to the Ukraine issue, the two leaders discussed “the US-Russia dialogue on Strategic Stability, a separate dialogue on ransomware, as well as joint work on regional issues such as Iran,” the White House said.
A White House photograph from the meeting showed that Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and senior director for Russia and Central Asia Eric Green were seated next to Biden in the Situation Room during the video call.
The meeting began at 10:07 a.m. ET and ended at 12:08 p.m. ET, according to the White House.
The two leaders took part in a summit in Geneva last June. Their last publicly known call was in July.
During the last several months, Russia has erected supply lines, including medical units and fuel, that could sustain a drawn-out conflict should Moscow choose to invade Ukraine, two sources familiar with the latest intelligence assessments told CNN. And recent US intelligence findings estimate Russia could begin a military offensive in Ukraine in a matter of months as it amasses up to 175,000 troops along the border. The US intelligence community also believes Putin has still not made up his mind to launch a military offensive against Ukraine.
Later Tuesday afternoon, Biden will speak with President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy and Prime Minister Boris Johnson of the United Kingdom — the same group of European allies he conferred with Monday night. Tuesday marks Merkel’s final full day in office.
On Monday evening, the leaders discussed “their shared concern about the Russian military build-up on Ukraine’s borders and Russia’s increasingly harsh rhetoric,” according to a White House statement.
“The leaders agreed to stay in close touch on a coordinated and comprehensive approach in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,” the White House said of Monday’s call.
Sullivan also plans to brief reporters Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET from the White House.
On Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that it has continued to observe “added military capability” by Russian forces along the country’s border with Ukraine.
“What we continue to see, and what we continue to see is added capability that President Putin continues to add, added military capability in the western part of his country and around Ukraine,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
US officials in recent days have weighed whether to issue wide-reaching sanctions on Russia meant to deter Putin from launching an invasion into Ukraine. They include new actions against members of Putin’s inner circle and on Russian energy producers, and one potential “nuclear option” — disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks around the world.
The officials said final decisions hadn’t been made on whether and when to apply the new sanctions, and said the Biden administration is currently in talks with European partners — many of whom have closer economic relationships to Russia — in the hopes of coordinating action.
Along with considerations of economic sanctions, 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, half a dozen sources tell CNN. The contingency planning is being led by the Pentagon, the sources said, and comes as the administration briefs Congress on how the US is preparing.
In a “gloomy” briefing to senators by senior State Department official Victoria Nuland on Monday night, Nuland outlined the tough sanctions package being prepared by the administration in response to a potential Russian attack but acknowledged that the US’ options to deter an invasion are fairly limited, a person familiar with the briefing said.
The Russian leader had been expected to come to Tuesday’s meeting with demands of his own.
Putin relayed last week that he would call for specific agreements that would rule out any further NATO expansion eastward and deployment of its weaponry close to Russia’s borders. Should Putin tell Biden on Tuesday that NATO must not admit Ukraine as a member — as he is expected to do — Biden is not likely to accede to the demand.
A senior administration official said this week that the US has engaged in “intensive discussions with our European partners about what we would do collectively in the event of a major Russian military escalation.”
The European Union “continues to fully support Ukraine in the face of the Russian aggression,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet on Tuesday.
“We will respond to any further aggressions, by scaling-up and expanding existing sanctions,” she added.
She also said the EU was “ready to take additional restrictive measures, in coordination with our partners.”
“The rise of extremism and autocracy can also be a security issue for countries. In this context, we must also speak about the Russian military movements and their massive build-up along Ukraine’s eastern border,” she continued.
This is a breaking story and will be updated. CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Natasha Bertrand, Ellie Kaufman, Jennifer Hansler, Zahra Ullah, Anna Chernova and Jim Sciutto contributed to this report.