On Thursday, US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin exchanged warnings about Ukraine, but conveyed some optimism that diplomatic talks in January could ease spiral tensions.
In a 50-minute conversation, their second conversation this month, Biden said he needed to see Russia reduce its military build-up near Ukraine, while Putin said sanctions threatened by Washington and its allies could lead to a lack of ties. The call was requested by Putin.
“President Biden reiterated that significant progress in these dialogues can only take place in an environment of downsizing rather than escalation,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Kremlin assistant Yuri Ushakov said the conversation created a “good backdrop” for future talks.
The change of leadership laid the groundwork for lower-level engagement between the countries, including a security meeting between the United States and Russia on 9-10 January, followed by a meeting between Russia and NATO on 12 January and a broader conference including Moscow, Washington and other European countries. January 13.
Despite talk of diplomacy, the tone of the conversation was described by officials on both sides as “serious”. And none of the countries reported significant progress towards a resolution or the outlines of any agreement.
In Kiev, the leaders are worried about the 60,000 to 90,000 Russian troops that have gathered in the north, east and south. The security alliance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has made its own preparations from the West.
Washington has not been persuaded by a report over the weekend that Russia would withdraw about 10,000 troops, with officials saying they have seen little evidence of a downsizing. The United States launched its JSTARS military plane into Ukrainian airspace for the first time earlier this week, although various types of surveillance aircraft are common in the region.
For his part, Biden reiterated its threat of unparalleled sanctions if Russia chose to invade Ukraine.
“Biden laid out two paths,” including diplomacy and deterrence, including “serious costs and consequences,” said a senior administration official.
“Both leaders acknowledged that there are likely to be areas where we can make meaningful progress as well as areas where agreements may be impossible, and that the forthcoming talks would determine the contours of each of these categories more precisely.”
Aides have said the options include measures that would effectively disconnect Russia from the global financial system, while further arming NATO.
Ushakov said Putin “immediately responded” that all sanctions now or later “could lead to a complete collapse of ties between our countries.” He added: “Our president also mentioned that it would be a mistake that our descendants would see as a big mistake.”
Moscow’s troop placements over the past two months have worried the Western world, following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and its support for separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Russia denies that it has any plans to attack Ukraine, saying it has the right to relocate its troops to its own territory.
Moscow, which is concerned about what it says is the West’s rearmament of Ukraine, has said it wants legally binding guarantees that the 30-member NATO alliance will not expand further east and that some offensive weapons will not be deployed to Ukraine or other neighboring countries. countries.
The Kremlin said Biden seemed to agree with Putin’s assertion that Moscow needed certain security guarantees from the West and also that he said the United States did not intend to deploy offensive weapons in Ukraine.
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Kremlin’s characterization of Biden’s statements.
Putin has compared current tensions to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Washington considers many of his demands, including restrictions on NATO expansion, as non-starters.