Biden call with Putin gets off to awkward start as US president fumbles with microphone

Tense call discussing Ukraine-Russia conflict begins with laughs

John Bowden
Tuesday 07 December 2021 20:47
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A bilateral discussion between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and US President Joe Biden began with an awkward moment as Mr Biden fumbled with his microphone for the first few seconds of the call.

The moment subtracted from the tension that would normally precipitate such a call, which comes as Ukraine’s government and many international analysts have warned that a Russian military buildup near the Ukrainian border is the pretense for invasion.

In video of the Thursday call first published by the Daily Mail, Mr Biden is seen greeting Mr Putin off-mic before adjusting his microphone and exclaiming, “Hello!” and laughing. Clips of the first few minutes of the call were obtained by Russian media outlets, but the call itself was not made public in full.

The White House released a readout of the conversation shortly after it occurred, stating that it covered a “range of issues on the U.S.-Russia agenda”.

“President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European Allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the US and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation. President Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy,” read the White House’s description of the call.

The vow by the president stopped short of threatening military action if Ukraine should be invaded, a possibility which Ukraine’s government has sought in its efforts to join the NATO alliance.

Tuesday’s awkwardness underscored the continued difficulties many are experiencing in conducting official business with new technologies that became commonplace amid the Covid-19 pandemic, although calls between the White House and foreign leaders were common before the pandemic .

Mr Biden added to his Russian counterpart during the meeting that he hoped the two would meet in person for their next conversation, according to the clip obtained by the Mail.

“We didn't get to see one another at the G20. I hope the next time we meet we do it in person,” said Mr Biden.

A readout of the call from the Kremlin did not mention the episode either, and focused on accusing NATO of making “dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory”. Ukraine has sought to enter the NATO alliance, but has not yet met requirements set by member countries for entry.

The US president is reportedly considering an “aggressive” package of sanctions targeting the Russian president’s closest advisers and allies should Russia invade Ukraine in the coming months, according to CNN. A White House official described the measures as a deterrent aimed at discouraging Mr Putin from going forward with an invasion, which US intelligence sources reportedly believe is likely.

“We believe that there is way forward here that will allow us to send a clear message to Russia there will be genuine and meaningful and enduring costs to choosing to go forward — should they choose to go forward — with a military escalation,” said the official.

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