Biden Has Another Tense Call With Putin

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The Kremlin in a statement said "during an exchange of opinions on Ukraine's internal political crisis", Putin told Biden about "approaches to a political settlement" based on the 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany and signed in Minsk, Belarus.

Biden also told Putin the US would "act firmly in defence of its national interests" regarding Russian cyber intrusions and election interference, according to the White House.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden voiced concern over the Russian buildup and "called on Russia to de-escalate tensions", during a phone call Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday the buildup was part of readiness drills in response to what he described as threats from North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and he said the manoeuvres in western Russia would last for two more weeks.

In Moscow, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Russian military has deployed two armies and three airborne formations to western regions "as a response to (NATO's) military activities threatening Russia".

The Western alliance denies any such plans.

The two also discussed arms control, the Iranian nuclear program, the situation in Afghanistan and climate change, according to the Kremlin. "This enormous build-up that they've made militarily.to take aggressive action, but we don't know their intentions obviously", the official said. It has regularly accused North Atlantic Treaty Organisation of destabilising Europe with its troop reinforcements in the Baltics and Poland since the annexation of Crimea. He called the USA deployment a provocation created to test Russian nerves.

Blinken met Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in Brussels after Group of Seven foreign ministers condemned what they said was the unexplained rise in Russian troop numbers.

Echoing NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who met Kuleba earlier, Blinken said Moscow's military actions on Ukraine's doorstep were "very provocative".

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During the visit, Kuleba will meet with Stoltenberg.

Kyiv has welcomed the show of Western support, but it falls short of Ukraine's desire for full membership of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. In particular, we call on Russian Federation to uphold the OSCE principles and commitments that it has signed up to on transparency of military movements and to respond to the procedure established under Chapter III of the Vienna Document.

Separately, two diplomats said Stoltenberg would chair a video conference with allied defence and foreign ministers on Wednesday.

Blinken insisted "the United States stands firmly behind the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine" and said the country's "Euro-Atlantic aspirations" would be discussed in the alliance. Mr Biden had also said Mr Putin would "pay a price" for alleged meddling in USA elections - leading to Russian Federation recalling its envoy to Washington. The White House added that Biden made clear that Russian Federation must "de-escalate tensions". The Biden-Putin call also comes days before Mr Biden's April 22-23 Leaders Summit on Climate, to which Mr Putin has also been invited.

The White House said that the two leaders "discussed a number of regional and global issues, including the intent of the United States and Russian Federation to pursue a strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the extension of the New START Treaty".

The White House did not say whether Putin had accepted the invitation but said Biden had suggested the summit take place in a third country in coming months.

In its readout of the Biden-Putin call, the Kremlin said "both sides expressed their readiness to continue dialogue on the most important areas of ensuring global security".

Underlying Tuesday's meeting is also Ukraine's wish to become a North Atlantic Treaty Organisation member.

Ahead of Austin's visit to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation headquarters, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg convened with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and called on Moscow to de-escalate the situation.

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