This makes the second conversation between the two leaders in the past three weeks. Ahead of Thursday’s call, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on Wednesday with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and the foreign policy chiefs of the UK, France, and Germany. The discussions with those leaders are intended to “make clear that the United States would not negotiate about the future of Ukraine or borders in Europe behind the backs of the region’s leaders,” according to American officials speaking to The New York Times.
That’s a deliberate departure from the previous administration’s diplomatic approach, meant to reassure European leaders that the U.S. remains an ally, while Putin is apparently intending to return to the old Cold War bilateral balance of power, in which the U.S. and USSR made all the decisions. Putin is likely to try to push Biden to promise that he would block Ukraine from joining NATO and that the organization would never put offensive arms there.
According to the NYT’s source in the administration, Biden will tell Putin in Thursday’s call that “for us to get to a place where we have security and stability in Europe, a context of de-escalation rather than escalation will be required.” Meaning get the hell away from the Ukrainian border. “We continue to be gravely concerned about the nature of the Russian troop presence there and the capability they have,” the senior administration official said.
As for Putin, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Putin had requested the call because of the “extremely complicated” between the U.S. and Russia. “Since the last conversation (between Putin and Biden), the Russian side has formulated its position, as promised by President Putin, it was set forth in two draft documents that were brought to the attention of Washington and a few European capitals. Therefore, in view of President Putin, there is a need for one more conversation prior to the aforementioned (January) talks,” Peskov added.
Peskov refers to proposed Jan. 10 talks in Geneva in which U.S. and Russian officials will meet. It will be led by the State Department, probably by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, and Pentagon and National Security Council representatives will round out the U.S. delegation.