Biden urges Putin to seek diplomacy, not war, with Ukraine

President Biden warned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin during a video conference on Tuesday that the invasion of Ukraine would result in severe economic sanctions from the United States and several European allies.

The virtual meeting, the second time the two leaders have had direct talks since their June summit in Geneva, took place after Putin mobilized around 100,000 Russian forces on the country’s border with Ukraine, sparking new fears of an invasion.

“President Biden has expressed the deep concerns of the United States and our European allies over the escalation of Russian forces surrounding Ukraine and has made it clear that the United States and our allies will respond with strong economic and other measures. military escalation, ”according to a statement. reading of the call published by the White House after the conference.

During their two-hour meeting, Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy. “The two presidents have tasked their teams to follow up, and the United States will do so in close coordination with its allies and partners,” the statement said.

The two world leaders also discussed the long-term work of the United States and Russia on arms control, ransomware and joint efforts on regional issues such as Iran.

Putin asked for assurances that NATO would not make Ukraine a long-standing member of the alliance, which has 30 member countries, including the United States. Membership would essentially guarantee the military defense of the former Soviet republic.

“President Biden has been blunt and frank with President Putin, as he always is,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, after the meeting. “There was no fuss, but the president was very clear on the administration’s position.”

He added: “We still don’t think President Putin has made a decision” on whether to launch an invasion. “We will see in the days to come with actions, not words, which course Russia chooses to take.”

The official Kremlin reading of the meeting blamed Ukraine for strengthening Russian forces and offered a defensive response to Biden, whom he described as having underlined “the allegedly ‘threatening’ nature of Russian troop movements.” and its threat of sanctions.

Putin, said the Kremlin, “stressed that the responsibility should not be transferred to the shoulders of Russia, because it is NATO which is making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory and building its military potential at our borders. “. Moscow, the reading continues, “is seriously interested in obtaining reliable and legally secured guarantees precluding NATO expansion in the eastern direction and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to it. Russia”.

Although Biden has publicly rejected all of Putin’s “red lines” and expressed support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, he has shown little interest in fully supporting his potential membership of the Atlantic Treaty Organization. North. The president, even as he sought to strengthen democratic alliances, seemed wary of the United States assuming additional global defense responsibilities as he focused on strengthening the U.S. economy and reorientation of alliances around the containment of China.

But he hopes to deter Putin from escalating the smoldering military conflict along the Russian-Ukrainian border.

“This is one of the last and best opportunities to influence Kremlin thinking,” said Steven Pifer, former US Ambassador to Ukraine, who is now the William Perry Fellow at Stanford University. Putin’s response in the weeks and months to come, he continued, will make it clear whether Biden has made inroads.

“The big questions to be answered are: are we seeing Russian military deployments changing? Pifer said. “And how does the Kremlin describe the call, and are the Russians toning down the really overblown rhetoric they’ve been uttering about Ukraine in recent days?” “

Ahead of the discussion with Putin, Biden spoke with key European allies on Monday evening about the sweeping economic sanctions any invasion would trigger.

And Biden spoke to the four main European leaders again in another call Tuesday afternoon to brief his allies on the nature of his talks with Putin, the White House said. He is due to meet with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday.

Ukraine gained independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It has since sought to strengthen its ties with Europe. After the ousting of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a friend of Russia, Putin seized the Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea in 2014, and tensions remained high.

Sullivan suggested that the economic sanctions could be larger than those imposed after the annexation of Crimea, although he declined to go into details publicly.

“What we did not do in 2014, we are ready to do now,” he said.

He also took issue with the idea that Russian influence has increased since the near completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, a project which the Biden administration opposed but did not until ‘now not tried to stop. Noting that “gas is not currently flowing” through the pipeline, Sullivan even hinted that the United States could still sanction the project, which allows Russian gas to flow directly to Europe, if Putin invades the Ukraine.

“If Putin wants to see gas flowing through this pipeline, he may not want to risk invading Ukraine,” Sullivan said.

Several Republicans, including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, have called for sanctions against the pipeline.

President Trump softened the United States’ stance on Putin, who, according to U.S. intelligence officials, waged a campaign of disinformation to help Trump in the 2016 election. In 2019, Trump pressured Zelensky to get him to do so. he announces a corruption investigation into Hunter Biden’s trade relations in Kiev, with the aim of smearing his father, the possible Democratic candidate. This effort led to Trump’s first impeachment by the House in 2019.

Since taking office, Biden has sought to return American foreign policy to its more traditional stance of skepticism towards Russia and support for the nascent democracies that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

He welcomed Zelensky to the White House in September and reaffirmed the importance of NATO while keeping cover on the issue of Ukraine’s potential membership.

Christi C. Elwood