Putin to Seek 'Legally-Binding Agreement' From Joe Biden to Keep Ukraine From Joining NATO

Russian President Vladimir Putin will demand NATO not expand eastward to Ukraine in an upcoming phone call with President Joe Biden, a Kremlin official said Friday.

In an Associated Press report, Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov said the two governments will announce the date the call will take place once they have ironed out all the details.

Russia has expressed concern over Ukraine's push to join NATO, while the West has shown concern over Russia's increased buildup of troops near Ukraine. Russia warned that any presence of NATO troops on Ukrainian soil would cross a "red line."

Ushakov said during the call, Putin will demand the creation of a legally binding document that would "exclude any further NATO's expansion eastward and the deployment of weapons systems that would threaten us on the territories of neighboring countries, including Ukraine."

Ushakov also cited an early 1990s verbal agreement from Western leaders that NATO would not expand eastward—which did not happen as other former-Soviet countries joined the alliance—as another reason not to let Ukraine join.

Thursday, at a summit in Stockholm, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov warned U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken denying Russia a say in the expansion was "playing with fire."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Joe Biden, Vladimir Putin
U.S. president Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin will speak on the phone to discuss NATO's possible expansion into Ukraine. Above, Biden and Putin meet during the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange on June 16 in Geneva, Switzerland. Photo by Peter Klaunzer - Pool/Keystone via Getty Images

Tensions between Russia and the West have escalated in recent weeks, with Ukraine, the U.S. and other Western allies increasingly concerned that a Russian troop buildup near the Ukrainian border could signal Moscow's intention to invade. The U.S. has threatened the Kremlin with the toughest sanctions yet if it launches an attack.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov told lawmakers Friday that the number of Russian troops near Ukraine and in Russian-annexed Crimea is estimated at 94,300, warning that a "large-scale escalation" is possible in January.

Russia and Ukraine have remained locked in a tense tug-of-war after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland, known as the Donbas. More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting.

Ukraine's defense minister warned Friday that an escalation "is a probable scenario, but not certain, and our task is to avert it."

"Our intelligence service analyzes all scenarios, including the worst ones," Reznikov said. "The most probable time when [Russia] will be ready for the escalation is end of January."

Konstantin Kosachev, a deputy speaker of the upper house of parliament, reaffirmed Moscow's denial that it was pondering an attack.

"We don't have any plans to attack Ukraine. We don't have any heightened military activity near Ukraine's borders. There is no preparation underway for an offensive," Kosachev told Russia's state TV channel Russia-24.

The Kremlin has voiced concern that Ukraine may use force to reclaim control of the rebel east. And adding to the tensions, the head of a Russian-backed, self-proclaimed separatist republic in eastern Ukraine said Thursday that he could turn to Moscow for military assistance if the region faced a Ukrainian attack.

Reznikov said Ukraine wouldn't do anything to provoke Russia but is prepared to respond in case of an attack. "Ukraine is most interested in political and diplomatic resolution," the defense minister said.

Ukraine, United States embassy
The Kremlin has voiced concern about a possible escalation of fighting in eastern Ukraine's separatist conflict as the U.S. issued a strong warning to Russia to stay away from Ukraine. Here, in this photo taken on November 19, Attache of the Land Forces at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine Colonel Brandon Presley looks at the map during the visit by a delegation of embassy to the Joint Forces operation area in the war-hit Donetsk region. Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation Press Service via AP