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Biden, Zelenskiy To Speak By Phone As U.S. Prepares For Series Of Talks With Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) during a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in September. The two leaders are scheduled to speak by phone on January 2.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) during a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House in September. The two leaders are scheduled to speak by phone on January 2.

U.S. President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak by phone with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, on January 2 as the two leaders plan to review preparations for upcoming diplomatic engagements aimed at de-escalating tensions over a Russian military buildup near Ukraine.

During the call, Biden intends to "reaffirm U.S. support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russian aggression," a White House official said.

The call will be the second in three weeks between the two leaders as the White House attempts to address the military threat, which has alarmed NATO, while authorities in Kyiv have expressed concerns that Russia could invade Ukraine in the coming weeks.

The call follows on the heels of talks between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 30 in which Biden said the United States and its allies would impose severe sanctions on Russia if it invades Ukraine.

Russia has amassed about 100,000 troops near its border with Ukraine as it makes demands for sweeping security guarantees from the United States and NATO.

In particular, Moscow wants NATO to deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and roll back military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on December 31 reinforced that Russia stands by its demands for written security guarantees.

“If no constructive answer comes in a reasonable time and the West continues its aggressive course, Russia will have to take all necessary measures to maintain a strategic balance and remove unacceptable threats to our security,” he told the state news agency RIA Novosti.

The Biden administration and NATO have repeatedly said that the alliance has an open-door policy and that no country should have a veto over the aspirations of another country to join. It also has said it would not discuss Ukraine's security without consulting Kyiv.

The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States, Oksana Markarova, reiterated Ukraine’s aspiration to join NATO in an interview with RFE/RL broadcast on January 1.

Markarova also said Ukraine will receive more armed Mark VI patrol boats in the first half of 2022. She said the United States and Ukraine are cooperating on arranging the delivery of the boats. The number of boats that will be sent is “under discussion,” she said.

In his comments to RIA Novosti, Lavrov noted an increase in weapons supplies to Ukraine and the growing scope of joint military drills, charging that Kyiv "naturally perceives this support as a carte blanche for the use of force.”

In his annual New Year's message, Zelenskiy expressed defiance amid the buildup of Russian forces.

"No army on the other side of the border frightens us because a great army on our side of the border protects us,” he said. “I am happy that today [Ukraine's armed forces] have the biggest budget in the history of Ukraine."

During their call on December 30, Biden and Putin set the groundwork for three sets of upcoming talks aimed at defusing the crisis.

U.S. and Russian officials will meet January 9-10 in Geneva to discuss arms control and the mounting tensions over Ukraine under their bilateral Strategic Stability Dialogue. That will be followed by a separate meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels on January 12.

Another meeting will be held in Vienna a day later within the framework of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which includes the United States, its European allies, Ukraine, and Russia.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service
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