In view of the continuing tensions over Ukraine, US President Joe Biden plans to talk on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin this Thursday, the White House National Security Council has announced.
The talks would be to prepare consultations at diplomatic level, it said. This probably refers to a meeting planned for 10 January in Geneva on the Ukraine conflict, which has been escalating for weeks, and the NATO security guarantees demanded by Moscow.
The Kremlin confirmed the planned telephone call. According to the Interfax agency, spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the talks were planned for late in the evening.
The White House said the call was scheduled for 2030 GMT on Thursday.
The talks were at Russia's request, a senior administration official said, adding that it is in the interest of both sides to to hold direct talks to avoid escalation.
The US government is in close contact with its European allies and partners to coordinate the response to the increasing Russian military presence on the border with Ukraine, the White House said.
Biden has already spoken about this personally with colleagues in Europe, the National Security Council further explained. Previously, there had been criticism from Brussels that the European Union should be involved in the planned talks in Geneva.
"We do not want to be, and must not be, uninvolved spectators over whose heads decisions are made," EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Josep Borrell told Germany's Die Welt newspaper on Wednesday.
Washington's support to Ukraine
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky of Washington's "unwavering support" for Ukraine's independence and territorial integrity in talks on Wednesday, spokesman Ned Price said in Washington.
"Secretary Blinken reiterated the United States' unwavering support for Ukraine's independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders," Price said.
"The two discussed efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine and upcoming diplomatic engagements with Russia."
For weeks, the US has been accusing Russia of a massive deployment of troops not far from the border with Ukraine. The West fears a Russian invasion of the former Soviet republic.
Russia rejects this and in turn accuses Ukraine of having moved more soldiers to the line with the pro-Russian separatist areas in the east.
The developments bring back bad memories of 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and began its ongoing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Russian demands for security
Putin had declared himself ready for a diplomatic solution last week, but at the same time demanded security guarantees. These included an end to NATO's eastward expansion, and thus also a renunciation of NATO membership for Ukraine.
Meanwhile, Zelensky has once again decreed the closure of two opposition television broadcasters, according to an announcement from his office.
The decision, which targets Ukrlive.tv and Perviy Nezavisimiy, was slammed on Wednesday as an attack on free speech by the pro-Russian party Opposition Platform For Life.
Member of Parliament Nestor Shufrych, who belongs to the party, is reportedly a co-owner of the broadcasters. He said he would take legal action against the decision.
The sanctions imposed by Zelensky are to remain in place for five years.
The president, who is currently up against low polling figures, had another three opposition news channels banned in February despite widespread criticism. They were considered mouthpieces for the Opposition Platform For Life, which is based in the east and south of the country.
In August, the influential opposition news website strana.ua was blocked.
In another decree published overnight, the president decided on national strategies to take targeted action against "false information" spread from neighbouring Russia.