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Biden-Putin Call Is Inconclusive as Ukraine Tensions De...

Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Biden-Putin Call Is Inconclusive as Ukraine Tensions Deepen

Members of the Ukrainian forces participate in an urban combat training exercise, organised by the Ukraine Ministry of Internal Affairs, within the exclusion zone in the abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine, on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. Russia denies any plans to invade Ukraine, saying the forces are on routine maneuvers, but it has warned Kyiv against making any military move against the separatist regions Moscow backs in the Donbas area.
By Bloomberg
13 Feb 2022 0

U.S. President Joe Biden tried to send Vladimir Putin an ultimatum about the consequences of any invasion of Ukraine in an hour-long conversation that left both sides at an impasse and Russia’s intentions unclear.

Biden warned his counterpart in Moscow that Russia would face “severe costs.” For his part, the Russian leader accused the U.S. of failing to provide him with security assurances he needs to back down.

The Kremlin characterized the talks as businesslike and balanced. Briefings by both sides afterward stuck to familiar talking points, providing few clues on where things go from here.

Biden told Putin during the conversation — their first direct exchange since late December — that the U.S. remains ready to find a diplomatic solution to the tensions over Russia’s military buildup near the Ukrainian border. The U.S. has ratcheted up its rhetoric, asking Americans to leave Ukraine while making clear it won’t send in troops.

U.S. officials continue to say they do not know Putin’s final intentions. Still, a senior administration official, speaking after Saturday’s call, said there was a distinct possibility that Russia may proceed with military action and there had been no fundamental change in that view.

The talks took place in an atmosphere of “unprecedented hysteria by American officials about Russia’s allegedly imminent invasion of Ukraine,” Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters. Putin told Biden that U.S. responses to his demands for security guarantees don’t address the Kremlin’s key concerns about preventing further NATO expansion, Ushakov said.

The White House and the Kremlin said Putin and Biden agreed their officials would stay in contact in the coming days.

The Pentagon on Saturday denied Russia’s claim that a U.S. submarine was intercepted in Russian waters near the Kuril Islands. “There is no truth to the Russian claims of our operations in their territorial waters,” Navy Captain Kyle Raines, a spokesman for the U.S. Indo-Pacific command, said by email.

The U.S. and U.K. say Russia has massed about 130,000 troops close to Ukraine, raising fears of a potential three-pronged assault including from Crimea and via Belarus in the north. NATO has moved to reinforce defenses in eastern European member states. Russian officials accuse the West of undermining the country’s security by drawing Ukraine closer to NATO and say troop movements on Russian territory are an internal matter.

Putin spoke separately with the leaders of France and Belarus on Saturday prior to his call with Biden. Russia and Belarus on Feb. 10 started their largest joint military drills in Belarus for years, including near the Ukrainian border, while six Russian landing craft have been moved to the Black Sea for naval exercises that begin Sunday.

The land exercises are due to end Feb. 20. Both countries have said the drills are purely defensive and that forces will return to base once they are finished. Ukraine has also begun military exercises in parallel.

Where Military Forces Are Assembling Around Russia and Ukraine

Potential actions by Russia could include causing a provocation in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, where Ukrainian forces have been fighting for years against separatists backed by Moscow, or attacking the country’s capital, Kyiv, Western officials familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified speaking about such a sensitive topic. They stressed that Putin’s final intentions were not known.

The U.S. has also been working with European countries on a package of potential sanctions to be imposed on Russia in the event of an attack on Ukraine. There have been some differences though on how hard to hit Russia and in what areas, especially for European nations like Germany highly dependent on Russian gas.

What We Know So Far About Potential U.S.-EU Sanctions on Russia

U.S. “hysteria has reached a peak” over Ukraine and the Kremlin believes American officials are spreading false information in the media about Russia’s intentions, Ushakov said.

Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday discussed what the Kremlin in a statement called “provocative speculations” that Russia plans an invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin also said that “prerequisites are being created for possible aggressive actions of the Ukrainian security forces” in Donbas. Ukraine has repeatedly denied it intends to seek to regain control of Donbas militarily.

Putin told Macron he had no offensive intention, an official from France’s Elysee told reporters after their call. “We have no sign that he will go on the offensive. That said we are being very careful,” the official added. Macron on Saturday also spoke with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as the diplomatic flurry continues to find an off-ramp to the tensions with Russia.

The Russian president has yet to reply formally to the U.S. proposals on security in Europe. Those proposals were made in response to Moscow’s demands for guarantees including that NATO never allow Ukraine to join and that the military alliance pull back its presence in eastern Europe.

Speaking after a call on Saturday between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, a senior State Department official said Lavrov indicated Moscow would provide its official reply soon. Russia has said that the Western proposals so far do not address its core concerns.

Scholz is due to visit Putin in Moscow on Tuesday for talks, a day after he goes to Kyiv. Biden warned after a Feb. 7 meeting with Scholz in Washington that “we will bring an end” to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas-pipeline project from Russia to Germany if Putin ordered an invasion.

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