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Putin warns Biden that sanctions would be a “colossal mistake”

(CNN) — President Joe Biden on Thursday urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to take steps to ease the relentless crisis on Russia’s border with Ukraine, again warning of dire economic consequences should Putin carry out an invasion. In response, Putin said that a new round of sanctions would be a “colossal mistake.”

The 50-minute phone call did not lead to any major breakthroughs, US and Russian officials later stated, but it was described as “serious and substantive” and set the tone for upcoming in-person diplomatic talks between the two sides. .

In the conversation, Biden presented two paths for Putin as he continues to accumulate Russian troops on the border with Ukraine: one, a diplomatic route towards de-escalation and another focused on deterrence through economic sanctions, an increased presence of American troops on the eastern flank of NATO and increased assistance to Ukraine.

Which path is chosen “will depend on Russia’s actions in the period to come,” the official said, saying there would be “serious costs and consequences if Russia proceeds” with its regional aggression.

US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

The two men agreed on “pragmatic, results-driven diplomacy,” according to the official.

The two leaders recognized areas where they are likely to make “significant progress” and areas where “an agreement may be impossible,” the official said. The outlines of those areas will be further developed in next month’s talks in Europe between the U.S. and Russian delegations.

Biden and his team did not leave the call with a clearer idea of ​​whether Putin had made the decision to invade Ukraine.

Instead, the official said the US focus would be on “stocks and indicators, not words at this time.”

In a statement Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “urged Russia to reduce tensions with Ukraine,” adding that the president “made it clear that the United States and its allies and the partners will respond decisively if Russia invades more Ukraine. “

“President Biden also expressed his support for diplomacy, beginning early next year with the bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue, in NATO through the NATO-Russia Council, and in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.” writes Psaki. “President Biden reiterated that substantial progress in these dialogues can only occur in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation.”

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Putin warns Biden of “colossal mistake”

Introducing a new round of sanctions against Russia by Ukraine would be a “colossal mistake” that could lead to a complete breakdown of relations between the two countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin told US President Joe Biden, according to presidential aide Yury Ushakov.

In the conversation with Putin, Biden mentioned that if the escalation of the Russian military presence continues along the border with Ukraine, Western countries will take large-scale sanctions on Russia’s economic, military and financial sectors, Ushakov told the journalists in a conference call after the presidency. talks.

“Putin replied: If the West decides to introduce these unprecedented sanctions mentioned above, all this could lead to a complete breakdown of relations between the two countries and seriously damage Russia’s relations with the West,” Ushakov said.

“The president mentioned that this, of course, would be a mistake, one that our descendants will later describe as a colossal mistake. Many of these mistakes have been made in the last 30 years, and it is advisable not to make them again, “he added.

Ushakov added that the goal of today’s conversation between the presidents was “to find common ground on the issues that concern us” and described it as “good, constructive and frank.”

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Putin requested the phone call this week for reasons that US officials say are not exactly clear. The last time Biden and Putin spoke was on December 7 in a video conference that ended with a commitment to resume diplomatic talks, but without indicating that Russia was willing to ease the tension.

Since then, up to 100,000 Russian troops have been piling up on the Ukrainian border, despite warnings from Biden and European leaders about the dire consequences of an invasion by Putin. US officials also claim that Moscow is conducting a massive disinformation campaign to undermine the Ukrainian government ahead of the country’s national elections.

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Biden hopes that Thursday’s phone call, to be made at 3:30 pm (Miami time), from his home in Delaware, will allow progress in reducing tensions. US officials said it will tell Putin that there is a way to avoid conflict and, by extension, to avoid the tough economic sanctions that the West is willing to impose if Russian troops cross the border.

The United States and Russia to begin talks in Geneva

The talks come about two weeks before American and Russian diplomats meet in Geneva to discuss the current crisis. In the run-up to those talks, Russia has publicly offered a list of security concerns and demands that it wants addressed, including a pledge that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that no military equipment of any kind be placed. the alliance in its former Soviet states.

The United States has prepared its own list of concerns, a senior US government official told reporters Wednesday, but does not plan 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 US delegation in the talks, which will take place on January 10, according to several sources familiar with the matter. Biden and Putin are not expected to participate themselves. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov will lead the Russian delegation. Pentagon and National Security Council officials will also attend the US talks, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

The direct talks between the United States and Russia 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 various topics will be discussed.

Commitment to allies

The United States has pledged to keep Western European countries and Ukraine itself informed as Biden talks to Putin on a diplomatic level. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke 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.

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The US has managed to convince its allies to prepare a set of tough sanctions, including some of Putin’s main allies, as part of a coordinated approach. US officials have said the punishment would be much harsher than the sanctions applied in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.

The United States has also “made plans to strengthen NATO’s position of strength” in eastern Europe if Russia attacks Ukraine, an official said, and is prepared to provide Ukraine with further assistance to help the country defend itself if necessary. .

Since Biden last spoke to Putin, there have been no indications that Russia is relaxing its stance on the border with Ukraine, although a senior administration official said the situation was fairly fluid.

“It is not totally static from our perspective,” the official said. “It remains a continuing source of grave concern what the Russians have been putting in place in and around that border area.”

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Heavy accumulation of troops on the border with Ukraine

The Russian build-up has included troops, artillery, vehicles and supply lines, officials have previously said. Earlier this week, Russia announced that it would withdraw 10,000 soldiers to their usual barracks. But US officials suggested the move was not a major de-escalation.

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

And the US Air Force conducted two reconnaissance missions over eastern Ukraine this week to gather information on the situation on the ground. The first took place on Monday, while the second happened on Thursday shortly before the meeting between Biden and Putin, a source familiar with the mission told CNN.

With input from Anna Chernova, Natasha Bertrand and Kevin Liptak

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