WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call Tuesday that the United States is concerned about Moscow’s “sudden … military buildup” along Ukraine’s border and in occupied Crimea. He called on Russia to “deescalate tensions,” the White House said in a summary of the conversation.
“President Biden emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said, but gave no assessment of Putin’s reaction to the U.S. leader’s remarks.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, with the U.S. and Western allies condemning the takeover but doing nothing to block it. Since then, Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region have fought Kyiv’s troops, with skirmishes flaring periodically, sometimes intensely.
The United Nations says about 13,000 people have been killed in the Ukraine fighting, about a quarter of them civilians. The U.S. estimates that Russia has recently massed about 4,000 troops near the Ukraine border in an early test of how Biden will respond to a foreign affairs challenge.
Earlier this month, Biden talked with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, while other U.S. and Ukrainian officials have also discussed the Russian military buildup.
The Kremlin said Putin explained his views on Ukraine to Biden but gave no specifics.
After the official comments about the phone call, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters, “We certainly expect the relationship with Russia will remain a challenge. We are just at the early stages of discussions” of a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders.
According to the White House statement, Biden proposed a U.S.-Russia summit “in a third country in the coming months to discuss the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia.” But neither side reported on Putin’s reaction.
Washington initiated the call, according to the Kremlin, with both sides saying that Biden expressed the hope that the two countries could normalize relations.
It is the second time the two leaders have talked by phone since Biden assumed power in late January.
The White House readout of the call said Biden and Putin “discussed a number of regional and global issues, including the intent of the United States and Russia to pursue a strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the (five-year) extension of the New START Treaty.”
It also said the U.S. president “made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to Russia’s actions, such as cyber intrusions and election interference.”
“President Biden reaffirmed his goal of building a stable and predictable relationship with Russia consistent with U.S. interests,” the White House said.