SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
President Biden is again warning Russian President Vladimir Putin of the economic consequences for Moscow if Russian forces invade Ukraine. Russia has assembled as many as 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine. Yesterday, Biden and Putin held their second high-stakes call this month, and Biden also made clear that the United States sees a diplomatic path forward. NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is here to talk about the standoff.
Franco, good morning.
FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Sarah.
MCCAMMON: The major question here is whether Vladimir Putin made any indication that he intends to invade Ukraine. What can you tell us about what he said about that in the phone call?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, it was a 50-minute call that a senior administration official told reporters was serious and substantive. And U.S. officials say Putin did not offer any more signs of whether he's going to invade. But he has repeatedly made clear of his concerns about security, as well as NATO and Western allies encroaching on his borders. Biden offered two possible paths forward, the official said. One is focused on diplomacy that would lead to some kind of de-escalation, and the other is about deterrence and the serious consequences should Russia decide to take action.
MCCAMMON: And so what did Russia say about the call?
ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, the Kremlin had their own readout of the call, and those can kind of be different than what the White House says. But Russian officials described the call as good and frank. But they also said Putin warned Biden that more economic sanctions would be a huge mistake and that they could lead to a complete rupture of relations - so strong words. But both leaders acknowledge that there are areas where meaningful progress can be made, as well as other areas where agreements may be frankly impossible.
MCCAMMON: We know that Putin requested this call, which led to speculation that he may be looking to de-escalate. Is there any indication that Moscow is looking for a diplomatic solution here?
ORDOÑEZ: Well, each side is highlighting possibilities for progress. But again, actions speak louder than words. And as you noted, there are tens of thousands of troops on the Ukraine border, and U.S. officials say they've seen no significant signs of de-escalation. I spoke with Samuel Charap, who was a top Russia adviser in the Obama administration - he's now at the RAND Corporation - you know, he says he's not that optimistic.
SAMUEL CHARAP: I don't yet see a pathway out of this where everyone can go home and there's no conflict. It seems clear to me that Putin is not willing to take away the threats until he gets something. And if he doesn't get something, he seems prepared to act.
ORDOÑEZ: You know, but Putin also has some domestic challenges. Matthew Rojansky is the director of the Kennan Institute. You know, he points to Putin's own words about the deep heritage and history Russia has with Ukraine as a reason for them to be together.
MATTHEW ROJANSKY: By that very same token, the prospect of going to war to force something on such a close neighbor is not very attractive for the majority of Russians. And again, I think Putin has to understand that. He is a savvy enough politician in Russia that he's probably reading those tea leaves.
ORDOÑEZ: And if Russian lives are lost in the process, he says that could be very damaging politically to Putin.
MCCAMMON: OK, so what's next? Where could the talks go from here?
ORDOÑEZ: You know, a big part of this call was focused on future dialogue. Top aides for both the United States and Russia plan to meet on January 10 in Geneva, where they will hold security talks. The two sides will get a bit more specifics about each of their concerns and see if there is some space for a resolution. The conversations will continue a couple of days later when Russian officials meet with NATO members and other European leaders. So there's going to be a lot of strategy sessions over the next two weeks.
MCCAMMON: That's NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thank you for your reporting.
ORDOÑEZ: Thank you, Sarah.
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