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Thursday’s Biden-Putin phone call which had been initiated by the Russian side lasted about 50 minutes and unlike the prior Dec.7 call included no public segment. The White House subsequently said that the US president used the occasion to again warn Putin that the United States stands ready to act “decisively” in the event Russia invades Ukraine. 

Biden “made clear that the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” a statement by press secretary Jen Psaki said in the call aftermath. While the US description of the call was thin on reaction and detail, the Kremlin hailed the talk as “good, constructive” and “frank” – and as ultimately setting the stage for the expected January 10 talks over Russia’s stipulated NATO “security guarantees” which will be held in Geneva.

Biden in the call from his home in Delaware. Image: AFP/Getty

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov was cited in Bloomberg as saying, “This is what we are working for and for this our presidents reached an agreement, which is why we are happy and satisfied.” He further said in the call aftermath, “Today’s conversation was good, constructive, frank, and it seems to me that it provides not a bad, even in fact a good, basis for the start of negotiations.”

Biden took the call from his home in Delaware where he is spending the New Year holiday. Significantly, the White House written statement on the call spent two out of four sentences on diplomacy as the only viable path forward. “President Biden also expressed support for diplomacy, starting early next year with the bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue, at NATO through the NATO-Russia Council, and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe,” it said before emphasizing” these dialogues can occur only in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation.”

According to the Reuters wire soon after the call, the Kremlin said the US president showed a “willingness” to address core Russian concerns, but also reiterated the sanctions threat against Moscow. However, Biden was cited as saying he would avoid deploying offensive weapons in Ukraine in order to work toward de-escalation

Bloomberg also saw in the exchange a likely cooling of tensions:

The softer rhetoric, coupled with the prospect of further talks next month, represents a dialing down of regional stresses that worsened when Russia began massing troops along the border with Ukraine earlier this year. Both sides “have partially drawn a line under further escalation of tensions,” the Tass news agency cited Leonid Slutsky, head of the State Duma’s committee on foreign affairs, as saying Friday.

However, the Kremlin side emphasized that any future “large-scale” Washington sanctions such as were threatened by Biden would result in an immediate severance of all relations.

“Our president immediately responded to that by saying that if the West goes ahead to introduce abovementioned unprecedented sanctions, then all that could cause a total severance of relations between our countries and most serious damage will be done to Russia’s relations with the West in general,” the Kremlin statement said in reference to the Thursday call.

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