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Proposed Biden-Putin Summit Follows Latest Russian Tensions With Ukraine

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden says he wants to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, one on one. Biden extended that invitation in his second phone call with Putin since his inauguration. This proposed summit follows weeks of tension over a Russian military buildup on the border with Ukraine. NPR's Lucian Kim reports from Moscow.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: President Putin has been seeking direct contact with Biden since last month, when the U.S. president called Putin a killer. That comment caused outrage in the Kremlin. Putin challenged Biden to a live debate, but the White House only replied they'd meet when the time is right.

MASHA LIPMAN: Biden's call to Putin was a wise move.

KIM: That's Masha Lipman, a political analyst in Moscow.

LIPMAN: The wisdom of the move, of course, includes a gift to Putin's ego. The U.S. president, who was engaged in name-calling, is now calling Putin to discuss serious matters.

KIM: Among them, Russia's recent deployment of tens of thousands of troops to its border with Ukraine. Both the U.S. and Russian readouts of the phone call say the two presidents discussed global stability and regional conflicts. Geopolitics is Putin's favorite subject. And there's no mention in the readouts of his least favorite subject, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who's on hunger strike in a prison outside Moscow. If Putin's muscle-flexing on the Ukrainian border was meant to distract from issues inside Russia, that strategy worked.

Konstantin Kosachyov (ph), the vice speaker of the Russian Senate, said Biden's call was promising news for the whole world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KONSTANTIN KOSACHYOV: (Non-English language spoken).

KIM: He told Russian state TV the Biden administration had made a series of mistakes and that he now hopes it realizes the failure of its Russia policy. That's unlikely. In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration expects Russia to remain a challenge.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JEN PSAKI: We expect there will be continued difficult conversations. We are prepared to confront those. But our goal is to have a relationship with Russia that is predictable and stable.

KIM: Putin has said he's interested in the same thing. But for now, the Kremlin is taking its time. Putin's spokesman said the Kremlin would study Biden's proposal to hold a summit.

Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PENSEES' "LAGUNA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.