President Joe Biden urged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to “de-escalate tensions" following a Russian military buildup on Ukraine's border in their second tense call of Biden's young presidency.
Biden also told Putin the U.S. would “act firmly in defense of its national interests” regarding Russian cyber intrusions and election interference, according to the White House. Biden proposed a summit in a third country “in the coming months” to discuss the full range of U.S.-Russia issues, the White House said.
The Biden-Putin relationship has been rocky in the early going of the new U.S. administration. Biden is weighing action against Russia for the SolarWinds hacking campaign, Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election, reports of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and the poisoning and jailing of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
There is growing concern in the West about a surge of cease-fire violations in eastern Ukraine, where Russia-baсked separatists and Ukrainian forces have been locked in a conflict since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Biden's call with Putin came as the top U.S. diplomat and the leader of NATO condemned the recent massing of thousands of Russian troops.
“President Biden emphasized the United States’ unwavering commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” the White House said in a statement. The White House added that Biden made clear that Russia must “de-escalate tensions.”
More than 14,000 people have died in fighting in eastern Ukraine, and efforts to negotiate a political settlement have stalled. Over the past week, there have been daily reports of Ukrainian military casualties and rebels also have reported losses.
Ukraine has said Russia has 41,000 troops at its border with eastern Ukraine and 42,000 more in Crimea. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday the military buildup of the past three weeks was part of readiness drills in response to what he described as threats from NATO. He added the maneuvers in western Russia would last for two more weeks.
“The troops have shown their full readiness to fulfill tasks to ensure the country’s security,” Shoigu said.