Kremlin Says Second Biden-Putin Meeting Is in the Works

Talk of a virtual summit comes as U.S. officials are increasingly alarmed by Russia’s military buildup near its border with Ukraine.

By , a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as Swiss President Guy Parmelin looks on during the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva on June 16. Peter Klaunzer/Pool/Keystone via Getty Images

Amid increasing alarm among U.S. officials about a Russian military equipment buildup near its border with Ukraine, preparations are underway for a virtual meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed to reporters on Wednesday. No meeting date has been set, he said, which follows an in-person summit between the two leaders in Geneva in June. 

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, on Wednesday. A brief statement from U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said the two discussed a variety of key issues concerning the U.S.-Russian relationship but made no mention of preparations for a meeting. The Kremlin said the two officials discussed Ukraine, cybersecurity, and the migrant crisis on Belarus’s border with Poland. “This was all in the framework of preparation for … high-level contact,” Peskov said on Wednesday. 

News of preparation for another—albeit virtual—summit with Putin comes as U.S. officials are increasingly anxious about unexplained Russian military movements close to Ukraine’s border. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he fears Russia may be “attempting to rehash” its 2014 invasion of the country, which led to the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Those fears have sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity between the United States and its European allies as well as with Russia. CIA director William Burns traveled to Moscow earlier this month to warn Russia that Washington was closely watching its troop buildup.

Amid increasing alarm among U.S. officials about a Russian military equipment buildup near its border with Ukraine, preparations are underway for a virtual meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov confirmed to reporters on Wednesday. No meeting date has been set, he said, which follows an in-person summit between the two leaders in Geneva in June. 

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, on Wednesday. A brief statement from U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne said the two discussed a variety of key issues concerning the U.S.-Russian relationship but made no mention of preparations for a meeting. The Kremlin said the two officials discussed Ukraine, cybersecurity, and the migrant crisis on Belarus’s border with Poland. “This was all in the framework of preparation for … high-level contact,” Peskov said on Wednesday. 

News of preparation for another—albeit virtual—summit with Putin comes as U.S. officials are increasingly anxious about unexplained Russian military movements close to Ukraine’s border. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he fears Russia may be “attempting to rehash” its 2014 invasion of the country, which led to the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Those fears have sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity between the United States and its European allies as well as with Russia. CIA director William Burns traveled to Moscow earlier this month to warn Russia that Washington was closely watching its troop buildup.

A meeting between the two leaders would offer Biden the opportunity to warn Putin himself. 

“It has to come from the very top; he needs to hear it from President Biden directly,” said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security and who briefly served as senior director for Russia in Biden’s National Security Council. Conveying the message privately in a meeting also offers Putin the opportunity to change course without appearing weak, Kendall-Taylor said.

Asked about a potential meeting, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in Thursday’s briefing that she did not have any details to share of upcoming communication between the two leaders. But she added that “after their summit earlier this summer, we agreed there would be continued levels of contact and engagement at a high level, and that has proceeded since that point in time.”

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was in Washington on Thursday to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. “We’re not sure exactly what Mr. Putin is up to,” Austin said in a briefing on Wednesday. “But these movements certainly have our attention. … I would urge Russia to be more transparent about what they’re up to.”

While Biden did not pursue a reset with Russia upon taking office, the administration has repeatedly expressed a desire to have a “stable and predictable” relationship with Moscow as it reorients U.S. national security priorities toward China and the Indo-Pacific region. But Putin has a way of monopolizing attention. 

“They are spending a lot of high-level attention and resources on Russia even if they would rather be focusing on China,” Kendall-Taylor said. 

Fears about Russia’s intentions with regard to Ukraine have been fueled by recent statements from senior Russian officials, including Putin, which appear to reflect the Kremlin’s growing frustration with the neighboring country’s status quo; Ukraine was a Soviet republic until 1991. In an ominous 5,000-word essay in July, Putin questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine’s borders and said the country would only be truly sovereign “in partnership” with Russia. In a ranting article in October, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said it was “meaningless” to engage in talks with Ukraine and included antisemitic remarks about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

In a speech at a meeting of the Russian Foreign Ministry on Thursday, Putin accused the West of not respecting the Kremlin’s red lines. 

“It is worth taking into account that Western partners exacerbate the situation by supplying Kyiv with modern lethal weapons, conducting provocative military maneuvers in the Black Sea—not just in the Black Sea—and in other regions close to our borders,” he said. 

In the speech, Putin also appeared to acknowledge that recent military deployments near the Ukrainian border were intended as “warnings” that produced a “certain effect,” and Russia would continue to keep the pressure on.

“He actually said that this state of apprehension is proving useful and will continue to prove useful for the foreseeable future,” said Michael Kofman, an expert on the Russian military with CNA, a defense-oriented think tank. “I didn’t walk away from the speech breathing a sigh of relief.”

Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack

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