US President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin Tuesday of a “strong” Western economic response to any attack on Ukraine, while Putin demanded guarantees that the NATO military alliance not push closer to Russia.
The two leaders met by video link in a tense, two-hour summit seen as a vital chance for defusing the growing tension on the Russian-Ukrainian frontier, with fears growing of war in Europe.
“President Biden voiced the deep concerns of the United States and our European allies about Russia’s escalation of forces surrounding Ukraine and made clear that the US and our allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation,” the White House said in a statement soon after the video conference.
Biden stressed “support for Ukraine‘s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy”, the statement said.
According to the White House, Biden and Putin agreed that their respective teams would “follow up” on the summit, underlining that the next US move would be “in close coordination with allies and partners”.
In its own readout, the Kremlin said Putin denounced the Western NATO alliance’s “military potential” near Russia.
“Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable legal guarantees that will exclude NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive strike weapons in countries adjacent to Russia,” the Kremlin said.
Russia denies planning to invade Ukraine, but satellite pictures showing as many as 100,000 troops gathered on the border have set Western nations on edge.
Reflecting the brittle atmosphere, Biden was shown in an official photograph sitting behind closed doors with the secretary of state and national security advisor in the White House’s Situation Room. Putin, at his resort residence in Sochi, was pictured alone at a long table in front of the video screen.
‘No concessions on NATO’
The United States says it doesn’t know for sure what Russia intends to do in Ukraine, but is alarmed at the deployment of some 100,000 battle-ready Russian troops to the border. Russia already supports a powerful separatist rebellion across swaths of eastern Ukraine and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Kyiv in 2014.
Moscow calls talk of an invasion “hysteria”. Putin intended to tell Biden he sees Ukraine’s growing alliance with Western nations as a threat to Russian security – and that any move by Ukraine to join NATO or to host NATO missiles would be unacceptable.
Even though Ukraine is nowhere near being able to join US-led NATO, Putin wants a “legal” guarantee that it will never happen.
The United States and NATO say Russia cannot be given a veto over Ukraine’s ambitions.
Biden “made no such commitments or concessions” during the call, US national security advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters.
Sullivan said there were sanctions that Washington had held off from in 2014 but were “prepared to do now”.
One target could be Russia’s mammoth Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany. Sullivan said the pipeline’s future was at “risk” if Russia does invade Ukraine.
Sullivan also said that an attack on Ukraine would prompt calls from NATO’s eastern European members for increased US military commitments and the White House would “respond positively to those things”.
There is no Western appetite for sending US or European troops into direct military conflict with Russia, leaving limited options for pressuring Moscow.
US, Europe coordinate approach
Biden talked with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy on Monday to coordinate his message ahead of the summit, and the White House said he would speak again to the four countries after he was finished with Putin.
“The leaders agreed to stay in close touch on a coordinated and comprehensive approach in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,” the White House said.
A Ukraine official said after the talks Kyiv was grateful to Biden for his “unwavering support”. A US Congress defence bill released after the talks included $300 million for Ukraine’s military.
Beyond Ukraine, Biden and Putin also discussed a range of issues where their countries are at odds, including Iran’s problematic nuclear programme and a wave of cyberattacks against the United States.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Sources from: France 24
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