Biden and Putin speak for nearly an hour as alarm goes off in Ukraine | New policies

By AAMER MADHANI and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) – Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin spoke candidly for nearly an hour Thursday evening amid growing concern over the build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine, a latent crisis that has unfolded. recently worsened as the Kremlin stepped up its demands for increased security guarantees and testing hypersonic missiles to underscore its demands.

Putin’s foreign adviser said Biden reaffirmed the US threat of further sanctions against Russia in the event of an escalation or invasion, to which Putin responded with a warning on his own that such a US move could lead to a complete severing of links.

“It would be a colossal mistake which would have serious consequences,” Yuri Ushakov said. He added that Putin had told Biden that Russia would act like the United States if offensive weapons were deployed near American borders.

Putin asked for the call, the second among the leaders this month, ahead of scheduled talks between senior U.S. and Russian officials scheduled for Jan. 10 in Geneva.

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White House officials said the call began at 3:35 p.m. EST and ended 50 minutes later, after midnight in Moscow. There was no immediate reading on either side.

Russia has made it clear that it wants a written commitment that Ukraine will never be allowed to join NATO and that the alliance’s military equipment will not be positioned in former Soviet states, demands that the Biden’s administration has made it clear that she is not going.

The White House said before the call that Biden would tell Putin that a diplomatic channel remains open even as the Russians have moved around 100,000 troops to Ukraine and Kremlin officials have increased the volume of his requests for news. guarantees from the United States and NATO. .

Those demands are due to be discussed in talks in Geneva, but it’s still unclear what Biden would be prepared to offer Putin in return for defusing the crisis.

Draft Security Documents Moscow has submitted a request that NATO refuse membership to Ukraine and other countries of the former USSR and cancel its military deployments in central and eastern Europe.

The United States and its allies have refused to offer Russia the kind of guarantees on Ukraine Putin wants, citing NATO’s principle that membership is open to any eligible country. However, they agreed to hold talks with Russia to discuss its concerns.

Moscow’s security proposal has raised the question of whether Putin is making unrealistic demands pending Western rejection that would give him a pretext to invade.

Steven Pifer, a career foreign service officer who served as US ambassador to Ukraine in the Clinton administration, said the Biden administration could commit to some elements of Russia’s draft document if Moscow considered seriously the talks.

Key NATO members have made it clear that there is no desire to expand the alliance in the near future. The United States and its allies may also be receptive to the wording of the Russian draft document calling for the creation of new consultative mechanisms, such as the NATO-Russia Council and a direct line between NATO and Russia.

“The proposed ban by the draft treaty on all NATO military activity in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus or Central Asia is overbroad, but certain measures aimed at limiting military exercises and activities on a reciprocal basis might be possible, ”Pifer, who is now a senior researcher at the Brookings Institution, wrote in an analysis for the Washington think tank.

Biden planned to tell Putin that for there to be “real progress” in the talks, they must be conducted in “a context of de-escalation rather than escalation,” according to a senior administration official who informed journalists before the call. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.

Biden and Putin, who met in Geneva in June to discuss a range of tensions in US-Russian relations, are not expected to participate in the January talks.

During the Dec. 7 video call, the White House said, Biden warned Moscow that an invasion of Ukraine would result in sanctions and massive damage to the Russian economy. Russian officials have rejected threats of sanctions.

Last week, Russia tested hypersonic Zircon missiles, a provocative move that Peskov said was meant to help Russia push for “more convincing” security guarantees. tests before the new missile enters service with the Russian Navy next year and arms its cruisers, frigates and submarines.

U.S. intelligence officials determined earlier this month that Russian planning was underway for a possible military offensive that could begin as early as 2022, but that Putin had yet to determine whether he should go from there. ‘before.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council, said Thursday that his country believes there is no immediate threat of a major Russian invasion.

“Our experts say that the Russian Federation simply cannot physically mount a large invasion of our territory,” Danilov said. “There is a period of time required for the preparations. “

The US military carried out surveillance flights in Ukrainian airspace this week, including a flight on Thursday by an Air Force JSTARS E-8C plane, according to Chuck Pritchard, spokesman for the US European Command. . This aircraft is equipped to provide intelligence on ground forces.

Pritchard said such flights are carried out with European allies “on a routine basis” and this week’s missions were “not in response to a specific event”.

Representatives from Moscow and NATO are expected to meet in the days following the Geneva talks, as are Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which includes the United States.

Russia has denied its intention to launch an invasion and, in turn, accused Ukraine of drawing up plans to attempt to regain control of territory held by Moscow-backed rebels by force. Ukraine rejected the request.

At the same time, Putin urged the West to act quickly to respond to his demands, warning that Moscow will have to take “adequate military-technical measures” if the West continues its “aggressive” run “on the doorstep of our house.” .

As Biden prepared for talks with Putin, the administration also sought to underscore the commitment to Ukraine and to convey that Washington is committed to the “nothing-for-you-without-you principle” in the policy making that affects European allies.

State Secretary Antony Blinken held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday.

Putin’s past military incursions are very important.

In 2014, Russian troops entered the Black Sea Peninsula in Crimea and took the territory of Ukraine. Russia’s annexation of Crimea was one of President Barack Obama’s darkest moments on the international stage.

US-Russian relations were severely damaged towards the end of President George W. Bush’s administration after Russia invaded neighboring Georgia in 2008, after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his troops to ‘enter the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Biden, who is spending the week in his home state of Delaware, spoke to Putin from his home near Wilmington. The White House distributed a photo of the president speaking to the Russian leader from a desk full of family photos.

Before the call, Putin sent a telegram to Biden with New Year’s and Christmas greetings, which was posted on the Kremlin’s website on Thursday, along with other holiday messages to world leaders.

“I am convinced that in the development of our agreements reached at the June summit in Geneva and subsequent contacts, we can move forward and establish an effective Russian-American dialogue based on mutual respect and consideration of national interests of each, ”Putin wrote. .

Vladimir Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press editors Dasha Litvinova in Moscow, Robert Burns in Washington, and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this report.

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Christi C. Elwood