Biden-Putin talks over Ukraine crisis rooted in older dispute

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Cold War ended 30 years ago this month, but an unresolved issue – how far Ukraine, a former Soviet republic, can ally with the West – Is now creating some of the deepest US-Russian tensions in years.

The dispute over Ukraine’s status and its growing alignment with the US-led NATO will be at the center of President Vladimir Putin’s video meeting on Tuesday with President Joe Biden, whose administration says a broad Russian military reinforcement near Ukraine indicates a potential invasion.

Russia denies any intention to invade, says Washington and Kiev are busy difficulty.

Putin has his own demands: a binding assurance that Ukraine will not join NATO and that the Western alliance will not add forces in states close to Russia.

“I want things to be clear: making our neighbors a bridgehead for the confrontation with Russia, the deployment of NATO forces in areas strategically important for our security, is categorically unacceptable,” said the week last Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, echoing Putin. .

This request is a non-starter for Biden.

A key principle of the NATO alliance is that membership is open to any eligible country. And no foreigner has the right to veto membership. While it is unlikely that Ukraine will be invited to the alliance anytime soon, the United States and its allies will not rule it out.

“NATO member countries decide who is a NATO member, not Russia. And that’s how the process has always been and how it will unfold, ”White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday.

Ahead of his meeting with Putin, Biden spoke by phone Monday with leaders of France, Germany, Britain and Italy. They discussed a “common concern about the strengthening of the Russian army on the borders of Ukraine and the increasingly harsh rhetoric of Russia”, according to a statement from the White House. They agreed to continue diplomacy, in particular through the so-called Normandy format which brings together Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in search of a political solution, so far to no avail.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he had coordinated positions with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Has agreed to pursue joint and concerted action,” Zelenskyy wrote, expressing gratitude for “the continued support of our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Blinken said last week that the United States would work with its allies to impose “serious costs and consequences” on Russia in the event of an attack.

On Friday, Biden said he had developed, along with allies, “the most comprehensive and meaningful set of initiatives to make the invasion very, very difficult for Mr. Putin.” It would likely involve significant economic and financial sanctions by the United States and its allies against Moscow. The administration has also considered providing additional defensive weapons to Ukraine, although Biden has given no indication he would respond to an incursion with direct US military force.

Putin’s grievances with the West are old and go beyond the Ukrainian question. They date from the early post-Cold War years, when Russia felt humbled by its collapsing economy and loss of global influence. After Washington launched a global war on terrorism, Putin lambasted what he saw as American arrogance.

“A state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has crossed its national borders in every way,” he said at an international conference in Munich in 2007. “It shows in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies. it imposes on other nations. Well, who likes that?

Russia has since rebuilt its army and has become more assertive in the Middle East and Ukraine.

The history of Ukraine’s relations with Russia and the West is complex. After the break-up of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Ukraine agreed to give up nuclear missiles that Moscow had deployed on its territory during the Cold War. It did so in accordance with the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, in which Russia and the West agreed to respect “the independence and sovereignty and existing borders of Ukraine”.

Ukraine has started to establish closer ties with NATO. Membership was never explicitly promised, although in April 2008 NATO officially declared that Ukraine and Georgia “will become” members in the future. This future has not yet arrived.

Four months after the 2008 NATO declaration, Russia invaded Georgia. In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula from Crimea, and weeks later supported a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. A 2015 peace deal brokered by France and Germany helped end large-scale battles in the Donbass, but efforts to reach a political settlement failed and sporadic skirmishes continued along the tense contact line. Russia has refused recent openings of talks with France and Germany.

Ukraine has deep historical and cultural ties with Russia, and Putin has repeatedly asserted that Russians and Ukrainians are “one people”. He said that large parts of Ukrainian territory are historical parts of Russia that were arbitrarily granted to Ukraine by the Communist rulers under the Soviet Union.

Since Ukraine is not a member of NATO, the United States has no treaty obligation to defend it.

NATO’s eastward expansion has from the start been a bone of contention not only with Moscow but also with Washington. In 1996, when President Bill Clinton’s national security team debated the timing of invitations to join former Soviet allies Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, his Defense Secretary William J. Perry advised to delay this accession in order to keep Russian relations on track. . Perry wrote in his memoir that when he lost the internal debate, he considered stepping down.

Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic were formally invited in 1997 and joined in 1999. They were followed in 2004 by Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the former Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since then Albania, Croatia, Montenegro and North Macedonia have joined, bringing NATO’s total to 30 countries.

Putin has now drawn the line against Ukraine, whose leader promises a firm response to any test. Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine, said his country’s army is a “highly capable and highly organized force that is confident in its potential and capable of derailing any expansionist enemy plan.”

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AP writers Aamer Madhani and Sagar Meghani in Washington and Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report.

Christi C. Elwood