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Putin’s Talk Therapy

Photo by Alexei Nikolsky via Getty Images
Julia Ioffe
December 31, 2021

When I first heard, on Wednesday afternoon, that there was going to be a last-minute phone call between the Kremlin and the White House, at Vladimir Putin’s request, I immediately imagined the worst: Putin was calling, I thought, to give Biden a formal heads-up that Russia was going to invade Ukraine after all. The news caught me as I was shopping at Target, and I stopped in my tracks, in the middle of the shampoo aisle, picturing a split screen, with Biden on the phone on one side, and, on the other, Russian troops pouring over the border. I quickly texted some of my sources in the U.S. and in allied governments, and asked: Is this it? A New Year’s invasion?

They assured me that it was not. Even though they weren’t quite sure why Putin had asked for this call, they didn’t think it was to give the American president a fifteen-minute warning. That was comforting, though, with Putin, who knows. I didn’t think he’d invade Crimea or eastern Ukraine in 2014, either.