Joe Biden

Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on the President's Call with Russian President Vladimir Putin

February 12, 2022

Via Teleconference

12:53 P.M. EST

MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone, for joining us today. Today's call will be on background, attributed to a "senior administration official." And contents will be embargoed until the conclusion of the call.

Today's speaker will be [senior administration official], who will have some comments at the top and then take a few questions.

Over to you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. And thanks, everybody, for taking the time.

So, the call between the two presidents was professional and substantive. It lasted a bit over an hour. There was no fundamental change in the dynamic that has been unfolding now for several weeks, but we believe that we have put ideas on the table that would be in our and our allies' interest to pursue, that would enhance European security, and that would also address some of Russia's stated concerns, just as we have been clear that we are committed to upholding Ukraine's sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the rights of states to choose their own security arrangements.

But it remains unclear whether Russia is interested in pursuing its goals diplomatically as opposed to through the use of force.

We remain committed to keeping the prospect of de-escalation through diplomacy alive. But we are also clear-eyed about the prospects of that, given the readily apparent steps Russia is taking on the ground in plain sight, right before our eyes. Stakes -- the stakes of this are too high not to give Russia every chance to avoid an action that we believe would be catastrophic.

So, as always, we continue along two paths: diplomacy, including maintaining close alignment with our partners and allies, as evidenced by the President's repeated bilateral engagements, including with President Zelenskyy, his call yesterday with key allies, and today's call with President Putin, as well as other senior officials' calls with their counterparts in all of these same categories.

Meanwhile, we are intensifying our efforts to deter Russia and to impose costs should it decide to go ahead with military action anyway.

You will have seen the announcement yesterday of an additional 3,000 U.S. forces headed to Poland. Our deliveries of security assistance to Ukraine have continued in recent days, and our discussions with the EU, UK, Canadian, and other partners and Allies to ensure that we are prepared to immediately impose severe financial sanctions and export controls are also reaching a culmination point.

We are continuing to reduce our diplomatic presence in Kyiv, as you've seen, and the President was very direct with President Putin about our concern for the safety and security of Americans still in Ukraine.

Whatever Russia decides, our assessment is that their efforts to improve their strategic position are already failing and that this will only be exacerbated should they decide to take military action.

The transatlantic relationship is more closely aligned than it has been in quite some time. NATO is stronger and more purposeful. Russia is already finding itself increasingly isolated from the wider world and more dependent on China, having together revealed a fundamentally different worldview at odds with the principled, affirmative, international law-abiding worldview and values that we stand for.

And Russia is finding itself on defense in the information space, given our own transparency about its intention.

Over time, if Russia invades, this list will also include a severe economic cost that I've already described and irrevocable reputational damage caused by taking innocent lives for a bloody war choice.

The two presidents agreed that our teams will stay engaged in the days ahead. Russia may decide to proceed with military action anyway. Indeed, that is a distinct possibility.

If it does, the damage to Ukraine, to European security, and, yes, to Russia will be profound. That is an outcome President Biden believes we should continue to work hard to avert.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks. Operator, we're ready for questions now.

Q: Thank you so much for doing the call. Could you talk a little bit about, you know, anything that President Biden brought to the table today in terms of proposals, as far as an off-ramp that he thinks can get us to de-escalation? And then, could you also talk a little bit about if you had any signs that an operation was more imminent than thought before? Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, Trevor. So, look, our view is that we have brought serious, substantive ideas to the diplomatic table for a period of weeks now. Many of those ideas are in the public domain already. We have offered those directly to the Russians in diplomatic discussions. We have developed them in close consultation with our partners and Allies. And President Biden continued to take that approach in the call with President Putin.

We have also been very clear that our strong preference is not to negotiate in public because we don't believe that that is the best way to find a path to de-escalation, which is our main priority for these diplomatic conversations.

So, I am not going to get into very many of the details of this portion of the conversation, but I would say the President continued down the path that we have been on for quite some time, which is a mode of problem solving and finding solutions that are in our interest, the interest of our partners and Allies, and that can address at least some of the concerns that Russia has raised.

Q: Hi, thank you for doing this, [senior administration official]. Two questions. You said that an attack was a "distinct possibility." The tone of the briefing yesterday was that the attack was imminent and the decision had been taken. Can you elaborate on that?

And then, in terms of continuing to provide Ukraine with military equipment, would that continue after a military attack by Russia, and might the nature of that support change? I'm thinking of things like anti-aircraft weapons and so on.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, I guess I'd say two things: I would direct you to comments that my colleague, Jake Sullivan, made on this notion of whether President Putin has made a decision. You know, I think the honest answer to that question is we don't have full visibility into President Putin's decision making. You'd have to direct that question to the Kremlin or to President Putin himself.

But, you know, we are not basing our assessment of this on what the Russians say publicly. We are basing this assessment on what we are seeing on the ground with our own eyes, which is a continued Russian build-up on the border with Ukraine and no meaningful evidence of de-escalation or, really, of any interest in de-escalation. So, our sense is that the trends that we've been seeing and talking about for many weeks now are continuing. And, you know, beyond that, I don't think we have any real insights to offer.

As to our plans going forward, I think President Biden and other officials have been clear that should Russia continue down the path to escalation, the United States will continue to increase our support to Ukraine to enable it to defend itself. And, you know, that approach has not changed.

Q: Hi. Thanks. So, I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about whether or not the alleged false-flag plans were discussed in the call, and what -- if so, if you can characterize Putin's response at all.

And also, there were reports of a sort of close encounter between Russian and American submarines today, and I'm wondering if they discussed that as well. Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, on your first point, I mean, I think, as a general matter, you can conclude that the issues that we raised concerns about publicly are raised privately between the two presidents. They have conversations that are quite direct, I would say, on both sides. And so, if there's an issue that we have been bringing to your attention through briefings and in other fora, you can conclude that the presidents have widely discussed that as well.

But beyond that, I don't want to get into the specifics of what we raised, and certainly not -- I certainly don't go -- we don't go down the road of characterizing President Putin's response. That's just not something we tend to do with the other sides of these conversations in these readouts.

On this close encounter, I would really direct you to the Pentagon for that. You know, I don't have any information to provide about that on this call.

MODERATOR: All right, thanks, everyone. We have to wrap now. With the conclusion of the call, the embargo is lifted.

A friendly reminder, we're on background, attributed to a "senior administration official." Thanks all.


1:03 P.M. EST

Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official on the President's Call with Russian President Vladimir Putin Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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