The US and Russian presidents have exchanged warnings about Ukraine during a 50-minute phone call, but conveyed optimism that diplomatic talks in January could ease rising tensions.
- The leaders’ exchange set the stage for a series of lower-level meetings in January
- The tone of the call was described as “severe”
- None of the countries described significant progress towards a solution or the contours of any agreement
During their second conversation this month, US President Joe Biden said he needed to see Russia reduce its military build-up near Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said sanctions threatened by Washington and its allies could lead to a breach of ties.
The call was requested by Mr Putin.
“President Biden reiterated that significant progress in these dialogues can only take place in an environment of de-escalation rather than escalation,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
Kremlin assistant Yuri Ushakov said the call provided a “good background” for future talks.
The exchange of leaders set the stage for lower-level engagement between the countries, including a security meeting between the United States and Russia on 9-10. January, followed by a Russia-NATO session on 12 January and a broader conference with Moscow, Washington and other European countries. scheduled for January 13th.
Despite the talk of diplomacy, the tone of the call was described by officials on both sides as “serious”.
And none of the countries described significant progress towards a resolution or the contours of any agreement.
In the Ukrainian capital Kiev, leaders are concerned about the 60,000 to 90,000 Russian troops gathered to its north, east and south. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Security Alliance has made its own preparations from the West.
Washington has not been convinced by a report over the weekend that Russia would withdraw about 10,000 troops, and officials say they have seen little evidence of a downturn.
The United States deployed its ground surveillance JSTARS military aircraft into Ukrainian airspace for the first time earlier this week, although different types of surveillance aircraft are common in the region.
For his part, Mr Biden reiterated his threat of unprecedented sanctions if Russia chose to invade Ukraine.
“Biden paved two paths,” including diplomacy and deterrence, with “serious costs and consequences,” said a senior administration official.
“Both leaders recognized that there would likely be areas where we could make meaningful progress, as well as areas where agreements may be impossible, and that future negotiations would more precisely determine the contours of each of these categories.”
Aides have said the options include measures that will effectively separate Russia from the global financial system while further arming NATO.
Sir. Ushakov said Mr Putin “immediately responded” that any sanction 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 huge mistake.”
Moscow’s troop deployments over the past two months have alerted the West following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and its support for separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Russia refuses to plan to attack Ukraine, saying it has the right to move its troops on its own soil as it pleases.
Concerned about what it says is the West’s rearmament of Ukraine, Moscow has said it wants legally binding guarantees that the 30-member NATO alliance will not expand further east and that certain offensive weapons will not be deployed. to Ukraine or other neighboring countries. countries.
The Kremlin said Mr Biden apparently agreed with Mr Putin’s claim that Moscow needed some security guarantees from the West, and that he also 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 Mr Biden’s remarks.
Putin has compared current tensions to the Cuban Missile Crisis of the 1962 Cold War.
Washington views many of his demands, including restrictions on NATO enlargement, as non-starters.