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Putin warns Biden of ‘complete rupture’ in relations if sanctions proceed

Russia’s president spoke in a 50-minute phone call with Biden amid U.S. fears that Moscow may once again invade Ukraine

During a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 30, President Biden threatened unprecedented sanctions if Russia chose to invade Ukraine. (Video: Reuters)
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MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin warned in a phone call with President Biden late Thursday that any new sanctions on Russia as a result of the Ukraine crisis could lead to “a complete rupture of relations” between Moscow and Washington that their descendants would come to regret, according to Putin’s foreign policy aide.

Putin issued the warning during his second phone call this month with Biden, after the U.S. president reiterated how Russia would face unprecedented and punishing sanctions from Washington and its allies if Putin were to proceed with a new invasion of Ukraine, according to Russian presidential foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov.

Putin told Biden that such actions would be a mistake, “which our descendants will later appreciate as a huge one,” Ushakov said, according to the Interfax news agency. “Many such mistakes have already been made over the past 30 years. Therefore, it is advisable not to make such mistakes in this situation.”

The call, which took place at Putin’s request and lasted 50 minutes, came as the Kremlin ratchets up pressure for a sweeping new European security deal after massing troops near the border of Ukraine and firing a test salvo of hypersonic weapons last week to reinforce its demands.

Putin has demanded swift acceptance of a proposed security deal that would bar Ukraine from ever joining NATO and rule out any other eastward expansion by the U.S.-led military alliance. The Russian leader has accused Western nations of encroaching on Russia’s borders with military exercises in the Black Sea region and turning Ukraine into a beachhead for anti-Russia action.

Russian officials see a time frame of just weeks for Biden to agree to demands that NATO has long refused, including effectively allowing Russia to veto the security decisions of Ukraine and other nations in the region. The White House has rejected any such bans on NATO membership out of hand, saying all sovereign nations should retain the right to make decisions about their own security.

In a tweet Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken signaled that the United States and its allies will not be deterred.

“Had a productive conversation with Canadian Foreign Minister @MelanieJoly on our shared efforts to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine. We will work together to impose massive consequences and severe costs for further aggression,” Blinken wrote.

A senior Biden administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic matters, told reporters after the call Thursday that Putin was looking to set the “tenor and tone” for upcoming in-person talks between Washington and Moscow that are slated to take place in early January in three different settings.

The United States and Russia are scheduled to hold bilateral talks in Geneva on Jan. 9 and 10, the senior official said. Those will be followed by talks at the NATO-Russia Council on Jan. 12 and negotiations at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes Ukraine, on Jan. 13, the official added.

“Both leaders acknowledged that there were likely to be areas where we could make meaningful progress, as well as areas where agreements may be impossible, and that the upcoming talks would determine more precisely the contours of each of those categories,” the senior Biden administration official said.

Biden, who took the call from Wilmington, Del., where he and first lady Jill Biden are expected to ring in the new year, also told Putin that the United States wouldn’t be discussing the security of its European allies and partners without them at the table, and Putin said he understood, according to the administration official.

Biden and Putin will not attend any of the meetings set for January but will be represented by their respective top diplomats and defense officials.

The talks come amid significant disagreement about Putin’s intentions in Ukraine.

Some analysts say Russia’s insistence that a complex security deal be negotiated in such a short time and include pledges that Putin knows Washington won’t make could be a pretext for military action. Others believe Putin has created the threat of a new Ukraine war simply to secure concessions from the United States and its allies in upcoming talks.

During the call, the Russian president told Biden that Russia wanted security guarantees and stressed that “the main thing we need is a result” from the upcoming talks, Ushakov said.

“The U.S. president, in principle, agreed with this point of view and reacted quite logically and quite seriously,” Ushakov said. Biden told Putin that Russia and the United States “could and should play a key role in efforts to ensure peace and security both in Europe and elsewhere in the world,” he said.

“It is important that the American side demonstrated a desire to understand the logic and essence of Russian concerns,” Ushakov added, describing the call as constructive and noting that Biden pledged to continue bilateral talks with Putin.

In their Dec. 7 videoconference, Biden warned Putin of tough new sanctions if Russia escalates action against Ukraine, a threat the Kremlin has shrugged off, saying it is accustomed to Western sanctions.

Putin last week made it clear he would not wait long for the written security guarantees he demands. He said he was not interested in negotiations, only results.

“It is you who must give us guarantees, and you must do it immediately, right now,” he told a Western journalist last week at his annual news conference, when asked whether he would rule out invading Ukraine. “It is the United States that has come to our home with its missiles and is already standing at our doorstep.”

Six ways Russia views Ukraine — and why each should worry the West

Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said last week that the United States had its own list of security concerns about Russian actions to bring to the January talks.

An unclassified U.S. intelligence analysis revealed by The Washington Post this month found that Russia was preparing to move as many as 175,000 troops in preparation for an invasion, though the White House has said Putin has not made a decision yet. U.S. officials and military analysts have predicted that if Putin proceeds, the offensive could take place in late January or February.

Putin blames Western aggression for the rising military tension over Ukraine and last week threatened to respond with “military-technical measures” if his security demands were not met, without indicating what the measures would be.

On Sunday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov explicitly linked Russia’s test firing of Tsirkon hypersonic missiles on Christmas Eve with Moscow’s demands for security guarantees, saying Russia hoped that its demands would “thus become more compelling.”

Putin, who has often boasted that Russia leads the world in hypersonic missile technology, said the first Tsirkon missile salvo test was “successful, impeccable.” He called it “a major event in the life of our country and a significant step in raising Russia’s security.”

Sonne reported from Washington. John Wagner, Sean Sullivan, Meryl Kornfield and Karoun Demirjian contributed to this report.

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