Biden, Putin clash for 2 hours as tensions in Ukraine rise
US President Joe Biden chats with Russian President Vladimir Putin virtually amid Western fears Moscow is considering attacking Ukraine, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens with other officials on a call secure video from the White House situation room in Washington, United States, December 7, 2021.
The White House via Reuters
Face to face for just over two hours, President Joe Biden and Russian Vladimir Putin clashed Tuesday in a secure video call as the US president warned Moscow that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would cause damage. enormous damage to the Russian economy.
The long-awaited call between the two leaders came as the United States and its Western allies increasingly feared a Russian invasion of neighboring Ukraine. Putin came to the meeting to ask Biden for guarantees that NATO’s military alliance will never expand to include Ukraine, which has long sought membership. The Americans and their NATO allies have said in advance that Putin’s request is unfounded.
As the US and Russian presidents concerted, Ukrainian officials only became more concerned about the tens of thousands of Russian troops deployed near their border.
Just hours before the start of the Biden-Putin video call, Ukrainian officials accused Russia of further exacerbating the latent crisis by sending tanks and snipers into the shattered eastern Ukraine. war to “provoke retaliatory fire” and pose a pretext for the potential invasion.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on the allegations, redirecting questions to the Russian Defense Ministry, which made no immediate comment.
In a brief excerpt from the start of the meeting broadcast on Russian state television, the two leaders greeted each other in a friendly manner at the start of what should be a long conversation.
“I welcome you, Mr. President,” Putin said, speaking with a Russian flag behind him and a video monitor showing Biden in front of him.
“It’s good to see you again!” Biden responded with a chuckle. He then quickly noted Putin’s absence from the recent Group of 20 summit in Rome.
The Russian only participated in the large gathering of industrial nations by video link because of concerns about the Covid-19 at home.
“Unfortunately the last time we didn’t see each other at the G-20,” Biden said. “I hope the next time we meet we will do it in person. “
Biden aimed to make clear that his administration is prepared to take action against the Kremlin that would result in “a very real cost” to the Russian economy, according to White House officials. Putin, for his part, should demand from Biden that the NATO military alliance never extend to Ukraine, which has long sought membership. It is a failure for the Americans and their NATO allies.
“We have meaningfully consulted with our allies and believe we have a way forward that will cause significant and serious damage to the Russian economy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday. -first of the meeting. “You can call it a threat. You can call it a fact. You can call this preparation. You can call it whatever you want to call it.
The leader-to-leader conversation – Biden speaking from the situation room, Putin from his residence in Sochi – has been one of the most difficult of Biden’s presidency, and comes at a perilous time. US intelligence officials have determined that Russia has assembled 70,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and prepared for a possible invasion early next year.
The United States has not determined whether Putin has made the final decision to invade. Still, Biden sought to impress upon the Russian leader that there would be a “very real cost” if Russia took military action, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.
Biden was vice president in 2014 when Russian troops entered the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea and annexed the territory of Ukraine. Aides says the Crimean episode – one of former President Barack Obama’s darkest moments on the international stage – looms large as Biden examines the current latent crisis.
In this photo taken on November 19, 2021, the Land Forces Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, Col. Brandon Presley, looks at the map while a delegation from the U.S. Embassy visits in Ukraine in the area of operation of the joint forces during the war. -strikes the Donetsk region, Ukraine.
Ukrainian Joint Forces Operation Press Service | PA
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, Defense Secretary William Perry called for a postponement to maintain Russian relations on the right 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.
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.
In Washington, Republicans see this moment as a key test of Biden’s leadership on the world stage. Biden has vowed as a candidate to reaffirm American leadership after President Donald Trump’s emphasis on an “America First” foreign policy. But Biden has faced sharp criticism from Republicans who say it has not been effective in slowing Iran’s march to nuclear power and that the Biden administration has done too little to counteract them. autocratic leaders like Chinese Xi Jinping, Iranian Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Putin.
“Other authoritarians in Beijing and Tehran will be watching the reaction of the free world,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said from the Senate on Monday. “And President Biden has the opportunity to set the tone when he speaks with Putin.”
Trump, who has shown unusual deference to Putin during his presidency, said in an interview with Newsmax Monday that the Biden-Putin conversation would not be a “fair game,” describing her as the equivalent of the six-time champion of the Super Bowl that the New England Patriots face. a high school football team.
Ahead of Putin’s call, Biden met with leaders in the UK, France, Germany and Italy on Monday to coordinate messages and potential sanctions. He was due to speak to them again on Tuesday after his call with Putin as he sought to coordinate with his allies before potentially imposing new sanctions on Russia.
Ahead of the Biden-Putin confrontation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday.
Zelenskyy wrote on Twitter that he and Blinken “have agreed to pursue joint and concerted action” and expressed his gratitude to the United States and its allies for “continued support for our sovereignty and territorial integrity.” Biden is expected to speak with Zelenskyy later this week.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken “reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity in the face of aggression Russian ”.
Conscripts line up at a train station before leaving for military service in the Russian army. This year, the Fall Military Appeal in Russia lasts from October 1 to December 31; it is estimated that 127,500 men will be enlisted.
Sergei Malgavko | TASS | Getty Images
The Kremlin has made it clear that Putin plans to ask Biden for binding guarantees preventing NATO expansion in Ukraine. Biden and colleagues have indicated that such a guarantee is not likely, with the president saying he “won’t accept anyone’s red line.”
Psaki stressed that “NATO member countries decide who is a NATO member, not Russia. And this is how the process has always been and how it will unfold. “
Yet Putin sees it as a moment to readjust the power dynamics of US-Russian relations.
“These are fundamental principles established 30 years ago for relations between Russia and the West,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, a leading Moscow-based foreign policy expert. “Russia demands to revise these principles, the West says there is no reason for it. So, it’s impossible to agree like that.
Beyond Ukraine, many other thorny issues are on the table, including cyber attacks and human rights. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said US-Russian relations were on the whole in “a rather dire state”.
Both the White House and the Kremlin have sought in advance to lower expectations regarding the call. Both sides said they did not expect any breakthroughs on Ukraine or the other issues to be discussed, but only the conversation itself will be progress.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that “clearly, if the two presidents decide to have a conversation, they intend to discuss the issues and have no intention of put things in a stalemate “.
“Putin has repeatedly said that we are looking for predictable good relations with the United States,” Peskov said. “Russia never planned to attack anyone. But we have our own concerns, our own red lines – the president has made it clear. To this, Mr Biden replied that he had no intention of accepting red lines. This issue will also be discussed (during the call).
Peskov called the Biden-Putin call a “working conversation during a very difficult time”, when “the escalation of tensions in Europe is off the scale, extraordinary.”