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Biden, Putin Set Video Call Tuesday    12/05 08:45

   Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak in a video call Tuesday, 
the White House and Kremlin said, as tensions between the United States and 
Russia escalate over a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border that's 
seen as a sign of a potential invasion.

   MOSCOW (AP) -- Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin will speak in a video 
call Tuesday, the White House and Kremlin said, as tensions between the United 
States and Russia escalate over a Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border 
that's seen as a sign of a potential invasion.

   Biden will press U.S. concerns about Russian military activities on the 
border and "reaffirm the United States' support for the sovereignty and 
territorial integrity of Ukraine," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said 
Saturday, confirming the planned call after first word came from Moscow.

   Putin will come to the call with concerns of his own and intends to express 
Russia's opposition to any move to admit Ukraine into the NATO military 
alliance. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "the presidents will decide 
themselves" how long their talk will last.

   The last known call between the leaders was in July, when Biden pressed 
Putin to rein in Russia-based criminal hacking gangs launching ransomware 
attacks against the United States. Biden said the U.S. would take any necessary 
steps to protect critical infrastructure from such attacks.

   Ransomware attacks have continued since then, though perhaps none has been 
as alarming as the one from May that targeted a major fuel pipeline and 
resulted in days of gas shortages in parts of the U.S.

   Russia is more adamant than ever that the U.S. guarantees that Ukraine will 
not be admitted to the NATO military alliance. But NATO's secretary-general, 
Jens Stoltenberg, said this past week that Russia has no say in expansion plans 
by other countries or the alliance. Numerous former U.S. and NATO diplomats say 
any such Russian demand to Biden would be a nonstarter.

   U.S. intelligence officials, meanwhile, have determined that Russia has 
massed about 70,000 troops near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning 
for a possible invasion as soon as early next year, according to a Biden 
administration official who was not authorized to discuss that finding publicly 
and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

   The risks for Putin of going through with such an invasion would be enormous.

   U.S. officials and former American diplomats say while the Russian president 
is clearly laying the groundwork for a possible invasion, Ukraine's military is 
better armed and prepared today than in the past, and that sanctions threatened 
by the West would do serious damage to the Russian economy.

   "What I am doing is putting together what I believe to be, will be, the most 
comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make it very, very difficult 
for Mr. Putin to go ahead and do what people are worried he may do," Biden said 
Friday.

   Ukrainian officials have said Russia could invade next month. Ukraine's 
defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, said the number of Russian troops near 
Ukraine and in Russia-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, and warned that a 
"large-scale escalation" is possible in January.

   Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, recently charged that a group of 
Russians and Ukrainians planned to attempt a coup in his country and that the 
plotters tried to enlist the help of Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov.

   Russia and Akhmetov have denied that any plot is underway, but the Russians 
have become more explicit recently in their warnings to Ukraine and the United 
States.

   Biden is also expected to speak with Zelenskyy in the coming week, according 
to a person close to the Ukrainian leader. This person was not authorized to 
comment publicly before the announcement of the call and spoke on the condition 
of anonymity.

   The Kremlin said Friday that Putin, during his call with Biden, would seek 
binding guarantees precluding NATO's expansion to Ukraine. Biden tried to head 
off the demand in comments to reporters Friday before leaving for a weekend 
stay at Camp David.

   "I don't accept anyone's red line," Biden said.

   Psaki said in a brief statement Saturday that Biden and Putin will discuss a 
range of topics in the U.S.-Russia relationship, "including strategic 
stability, cyber, and regional issues."

   She said Friday that the administration would coordinate with European 
allies if it moved forward with sanctions. She alluded to Russia's 2014 
annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine's 
control since 1954. Russia has also backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a 
7-year conflict that has cost over 14,000 lives.

   "We know what President Putin has done in the past," Psaki said. "We see 
that he is putting in place the capacity to take action in short order."

   U.S.-Russia relations have been rocky since Biden took office.

   His administration has imposed sanctions against Russian targets and called 
out Putin for the Kremlin's interference in U.S. elections, cyberactivity 
against American companies and the treatment of opposition figure Alexei 
Navalny, who was poisoned last year and later imprisoned.

   When Putin and Biden met in Geneva in June, Biden warned that if Russia 
crossed certain red lines -- including going after major American 
infrastructure -- his administration would respond and "the consequences of 
that would be devastating."

 
 
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