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Deep concerns Putin and Biden discuss Ukraine, bilateral relations in virtual talks

Source: Meduza

Amid tensions over Moscow massing troops on the border with Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden held virtual talks on Tuesday, December 7. The discussion took place behind closed doors and lasted about two hours. The White House was the first to release a readout, which stated that Biden had promised “strong economic and other measures” in the event that Russia launches a military offensive against Ukraine. In turn, Putin told the U.S. President that Russia wants to obtain “legally fixed guarantees” that would rule out NATO’s eastward expansion.

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden held a video call on Tuesday, December 7. Ahead of the virtual talks, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that this secure video-conference line between Russia and the U.S. had never been used before. Putin joined the discussion from his residence in Sochi, while Biden tuned in from the White House. The talks lasted about two hours and were not open to the press.

Biden warned the U.S. and its allies “would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation” against Ukraine, according to the White House readout. Biden expressed deep concerns about Russia massing forces near the border with Ukraine, calling for “de-escalation and a return to diplomacy.” However, the military buildup wasn’t the only topic of conversation: Biden and Putin also discussed bilateral relations, including dialogue on Strategic Stability and ransomware, and “joint work on regional issues such as Iran.” 

In its own readout, the Kremlin confirmed that the two presidents mainly talked about Ukraine. According to the press release, Putin gave Biden “specific examples” of how Kyiv is pursuing a “destructive line” allegedly aimed at completely dismantling the Minsk and Normandy format agreements on resolving the war in eastern Ukraine. In response to Biden’s concerns about Russia massing troops, Putin claimed that “NATO is making dangerous attempts to exploit Ukrainian territory and building up its military potential” near Russia’s borders. The Russian president added that Moscow is “seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees” against NATO’s eastward expansion. 

Putin and Biden also discussed bilateral issues and the “unsatisfactory” state of cooperation between Russia and the United States, the Kremlin readout says. The Russian side proposed lifting all restrictions on the functioning of U.S. and Russian diplomatic missions, as a step that “could also serve to normalize other aspects of bilateral relations.”

Tuesday’s talks took place against the backdrop of reports that Russia is planning a large-scale military offensive against Ukraine. The Kremlin has refuted these reports. Citing intelligence sources, American and European media outlets have reported that Russia could be poised to launch an attack involving upwards of 100,000 troops as early as 2022. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the movement of Russian troops on Russian territory “the legal right of a sovereign state.” “Based on NATO’s actions in the region, the American press should be concerned with the aggressive actions of the United States, not of Russia,” she maintained

Ahead of Tuesday’s talks, Biden said he was developing a “comprehensive set of initiatives” that would make it difficult for Russia to launch an attack on Ukraine. CNN reported that the U.S. and the European Union were mulling an aggressive package of economic sanctions against Russia, but had yet to make a final decision on whether and when to apply these measures. The sanctions package reportedly includes the “nuclear option” of disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system. According to Bloomberg, placing restrictions on the conversion of rubles into other currencies is another potential option. 

In mid-November, Putin accused Western countries of failing to take Russia’s “red lines” seriously. The Russian president said that “Western partners” are exacerbating tensions by supplying Kyiv with lethal weapons and carrying out “provocative military maneuvers” in the Black Sea and in other regions close to Russia’s borders. “We constantly express our concerns about this, we talk about red lines. But we understand that our partners are very peculiar and, how to put it mildly, have a superficial attitude towards all our warnings and talks about red lines,” Putin said. Responding to the Russian president’s statements, Biden said: “I don’t accept anybody’s red lines.”

Tuesday’s video call marks Biden’s fifth conversation with Putin as a president of the United States. In addition to the video call, the two leaders have held three phone calls and one in-person meeting. The summit took place in Geneva in June 2021 — a few months after the West raised the alarm about an earlier Russian troop buildup on Ukraine’s border in the spring. 

Read more about the Geneva summit

What it all meant Experts explain the significance, or lack thereof, of last week’s Putin-Biden summit

Read more about the Geneva summit

What it all meant Experts explain the significance, or lack thereof, of last week’s Putin-Biden summit

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Story by Olga Korelina

Translation by Eilish Hart