The Day – Biden talks about sanctions, Putin warns of Ukraine breakup

WILMINGTON, Del. – President Joe Biden on Thursday warned Vladimir Putin that the United States could impose new sanctions on Russia if it takes further military action against Ukraine, while Putin replied that such a US move could lead to a complete rupture of the bonds between the nations.

The two leaders spoke candidly for nearly an hour amid growing concern over the build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine, a crisis that deepened as the Kremlin stepped up its emphasis on border security guarantees and hypersonic missiles tested to underline its demands.

New US sanctions “would be a colossal mistake with serious consequences,” said Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov, who briefed reporters in Moscow after the Biden-Putin telephone conversation. He added that Putin told Biden that Russia will act like the United States. would if offensive weapons were deployed near US borders.

White House officials offered a much quieter reading after the call, suggesting leaders agreed that there are areas where both sides can make significant progress, but also differences that may be impossible to resolve. to resolve.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden “had urged Russia to defuse tensions with Ukraine” and “made it clear that the United States and its allies and partners would react decisively if Russia invaded Ukraine more. “

Putin asked for the call, the second between the leaders this month, ahead of scheduled talks between senior U.S. and Russian officials on Jan.9-10 in Geneva. The Geneva talks will be followed by a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council on January 12 and negotiations at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna on January 13.

White House officials said Thursday’s call lasted 50 minutes and ended after midnight in Moscow.

Biden told Putin the two powers now face “two paths”: diplomacy or US deterrence through sanctions, according to a senior administration official. Biden said the route taken, according to the official who told reporters on condition of anonymity, “will depend on Russia’s actions in the coming period.”

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, requests that the Biden administration rejected it.

Biden told 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 their demands for further guarantees from the United States and of NATO.

White House officials have said Biden has made it clear that the United States is prepared to inflict substantial economic pain through sanctions if Putin decides to take military action in Ukraine.

Putin reacted strongly.

He “noted that this would be a mistake our ancestors would consider a big mistake. A lot of mistakes have been made in the past 30 years, and we had better avoid more such mistakes in this situation,” said Ushakov.

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

Draft Security Documents Moscow submitted a request that NATO deny membership to Ukraine and other former Soviet countries and cancel 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, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in the Clinton administration, said the Biden administration could commit to some elements of Russia’s draft document if Moscow seriously considered the talks.

Meanwhile, 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 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.

Russia last week tested hypersonic Zircon missiles, a move according to Russian officials intended to help make Russian pressure for security guarantees “more convincing.” 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.

Russia has denied any 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 warned that Moscow will have to take “adequate military-technical measures” if the West continues its “aggressive” course “on the threshold of our house”.

Last month, Putin expressed concern that NATO could potentially use Ukrainian territory for the deployment of missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes and said the Zircon would give Russia a comparable capability. .

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

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.

Christi C. Elwood