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Biden, Putin to speak Thursday amid growing tensions over Ukraine

The administration said this month that it was weighing sweeping sanctions against Russia if it invades Ukraine.

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will hold a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, a National Security Council spokesperson said.

Russia has massed 100,000 troops along the Ukrainian border, prompting fears of an invasion as early as next month. It has repeatedly denied that it has any plans to attack its neighbor.

"The Biden Administration continues to engage in extensive diplomacy with our European Allies and partners, consulting and coordinating on a common approach in response to Russia's military build-up on the border with Ukraine," the spokesperson, Emily Horne, said in a statement.

Biden is speaking with Putin "at the request of the Russian side," a senior administration official said in a background call with reporters Wednesday, adding, "I cannot speak to why the Russian side has requested this call."

Putin and Biden will discuss diplomacy and de-escalation at the border and lay the groundwork for security talks between the U.S. and Russia on Jan. 10, which Biden and Putin are not expected to participate in, the official said. The U.S. delegation will be led by the State Department.

The official said the U.S. has made it clear to the Russian side that "for there to be real progress in these talks, for us to get to a place where we have security and stability in Europe, a context of de-escalation, rather than escalation, will be required."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Blinken "reiterated the United States' unwavering support for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the face of Russia's military buildup on Ukraine's borders," State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

Blinken and Zelenskyy discussed efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and coming diplomatic engagements with Russia, Price said.

Biden warned Putin in a virtual call this month that Russia would face "severe consequences" if it attacked Ukraine.

Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, drawing condemnation and sanctions from the West. Shortly afterward, Moscow backed a separatist rebellion in the east of the country, where fighting has killed over 14,000 people and devastated Ukraine's industrial heartland.

Biden has come under criticism for having suspended sanctions this year on Russia's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, a project strongly opposed by Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. But U.S. officials say the administration will not hesitate to impose sanctions and prevent the completion of the pipeline if necessary.