U.S. President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, have held two hours of talks amid fears over Russia's troop buildup on the Ukrainian border, NATO's future in the region, and Russia's security demands.
The December 7 virtual meeting was the third direct conversation that the two leaders have held since Biden became president in January.
The discussion may turn out to be most consequential to date, with Washington aiming to deter Russia from a possible invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin seeking guarantees that the former Soviet republic will never become a NATO member.
Neither the Kremlin nor the White House immediately released any details of the talks. Biden was scheduled to call the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy after the summit, according to the White House.
Video released by the Kremlin at the start of the meeting showed the two leaders smiling as they greeted each other via videoconference and exchanged pleasantries. The White House confirmed the start of the talks, but gave no further details.
The White House official also told reporters that the Biden administration supported 'discussions between NATO and Russia to address larger issues of concern on both sides,' but would not rule out Ukraine's future membership in the North American alliance and is 'not going to operate according to...anyone's red lines.'
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Putin has repeatedly described NATO expansion or the deployment of certain offensive missile capabilities in Ukraine as a 'red line.'
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on December 6 that 'of course, [the agenda] will be bilateral relations, which remain in a rather lamentable state," adding that questions around Ukraine, NATO expansion, and security guarantees will 'loom large.'
Photo Gallery: Boots On The Ground: Satellite Images Reveal Russian Troop Buildup Near Ukrainian Border And In Crimea RFE/RL Amid fears of a possible invasion, Ukrainian officials say more than 90,000 Russian troops have been deployed along its border -- including on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized by force from Ukraine in 2014. Maxar Technologies, a satellite-imaging company, has released photographs that show the Russian troop buildup. Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on В Контакте Email to a Friend Share on LinkedIn
Ukrainian officials say more than 90,000 Russian troops have been deployed along its border -- including on the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia seized by force from Ukraine in 2014. U.S. intelligence estimates suggest that the buildup could eventually reach 175,000 Russian troops. It's one of the largest movements of Russian forces toward Ukraine in years, outside of regularly scheduled and announced training exercises.
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That, plus the absence of more routine notification procedures shared even with adversaries, has set off alarm bells, not only in Ukraine, but in many NATO countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe.
"We do not know, or have a clear indication, that President Putin has actually given an affirmative action order here. It is more about planning and intentions then the kinds of movements we have seen. In this regard, the planning from our perspective is clear," the unidentified senior U.S. administration official said.
"We have seen the movement of additional capabilities, and forces, toward the vicinity of Ukraine, in multiple areas, and these movements are consistent with the planning under way for a military escalation in Ukraine," the official said.
Should 'Putin move in' and invade Ukraine, the official added, 'there would be an increasing request from Eastern Flank allies and a positive response from the United States for additional forces and capabilities and exercises to take place there.'
Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Washington DC 20036