Dec 08, 2021 9:00 PM

Kremlin, White House differ on result of Putin-Biden call

Posted Dec 08, 2021 9:00 PM
President Biden held a secure video call with Russian President Putin of Russia to discuss a range of topics in the U.S.-Russia relationship, including concerns about Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine, cyber security and other regional issues.-photo courtesy White House
President Biden held a secure video call with Russian President Putin of Russia to discuss a range of topics in the U.S.-Russia relationship, including concerns about Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine, cyber security and other regional issues.-photo courtesy White House

MOSCOW (AP) — President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow will face a severe economic pain if it tries to attack Ukraine, but promised prospective talks to address Russia's concerns about NATO's expansion.

Biden said he was “very straightforward” with Putin during their call Tuesday, warning the Russian leader that he will pay a heavy price if he invades Ukraine.

“There were no minced words," Biden said at the White House before departing for Kanzas City. "It was polite, but I made it very clear. If in fact he invades Ukraine, there will be severe consequences, severe consequences. Economic consequences like you’ve never seen. I am absolutely confident he got the message.”

Asked by reporters if he’d ruled out U.S. troops on the ground to stop Russia, Biden said “that’s not on the table," saying that a U.S. obligation to protect NATO allies if they come under attack doesn't extend to Ukraine, which is not in the Atlantic military alliance.

"The idea that the United States is going to unilaterally use force to confront Russia for invading Ukraine is not in the cards right now,” Biden said.

At the same time, he said that the U.S., its allies and Russia could sit down for talks to discuss Moscow's grievances about NATO's expansion.

“We hope by Friday we’re gonna be able to say, announce to you we’re having meetings at a higher level, not just with us, but with at least four of our major NATO allies, and Russia to discuss the future of Russia’s concern relative to NATO writ large and whether or not we could work out any accommodations as it relates to bringing down the temperature along the eastern front (in Ukraine)," Biden said.

Putin, for his part, promised that Moscow will submit its proposals for a security dialogue with the U.S. in a few days. He reaffirmed his denial of planning to attack Ukraine, but said that Moscow can’t remain indifferent to NATO’s possible expansion to its neighbor.

Putin, who entered Tuesday's call with Biden looking for Western guarantees precluding NATO’s expansion to Ukraine, countered Western arguments that Russia has no say in the alliance expansion by arguing that security in Europe can only be mutual.

“Every country certainly has the right to choose the most acceptable way of ensuring its security, but it must be done in a way that doesn't infringe on the interests and undermine security of other countries, in this case Russia," Putin said. “Security must be global and equally cover everyone.”

“We can’t fail to be concerned about the prospect of Ukraine’s accession to NATO, because that will undoubtedly lead to the deployment of military contingents, bases and weapons that would threaten us,” he told reporters after talks in Sochi with visiting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

He described the two-hour conversation with Biden as “very open, specific and, I would say constructive,” adding that he and Biden have agreed to ask experts to conduct talks on security in Europe.

“Russia will prepare its arguments literally in a few days, within a week, and we will submit it to the American side for consideration,” he said.

“We proceed from the assumption that this time are concerns will be heard,” he said, noting that the West ignored Moscow's complaints in the past about NATO's expansion eastward to incorporate former Soviet allies in Central and Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics in the Baltics.

Asked Wednesday if Russia was going to attack Ukraine, Putin called the question provocative, saying that “Russia is conducting a peaceful foreign policy, but it has the right to ensure its security in the mid- and long-term perspective.”

The leader-to-leader conversation — Biden speaking from the White House Situation Room, Putin from his residence in Sochi — was one of the most important of Biden’s presidency and came at a perilous time.

U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has moved 70,000 troops near the Ukraine border and has made preparations for a possible invasion early next year. Moscow has denied any plans to attack Ukraine, rejecting Western concerns as part of a campaign to smear Russia.

White House officials made clear that Biden is not interested in putting U.S. troops in harm’s way defending Ukraine. But U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan noted that Biden said the U.S. would also “provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians … and we would fortify our NATO allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to such an escalation.”

Sullivan said the U.S. believes that Putin hasn’t yet made a final decision to invade. Biden was vice president in 2014 when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and backed an insurgency in eastern Ukraine, which has killed more than 14,000 people and is still an active conflict.

Putin's foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov told reporters that Putin countered Biden’s expressions of concern about the Russian troop buildup near Ukraine by snapping: “You Americans are worried about Russian battalions on Russian territory thousands of miles away from the United States, while we are really worried about our security.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that “it was positive that the U.S. president spoke to the Russian president,” adding that he would comment in detail on Thursday, after his own phone call with Biden.

With no immediate breakthrough on the Ukraine question, the U.S. emphasized a need for diplomacy and de-escalation, while issuing stern threats to Russia about the high costs of a military incursion.

A top U.S. envoy, Victoria Nuland, said a Russian invasion of Ukraine would also jeopardize a controversial pipeline between Russia and Germany known as Nord Stream 2. She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that if Russia invaded, “our expectation is that the pipeline will be suspended.”

On another matter, Putin proposed to lift all mutual restrictions on diplomatic missions and help normalize other aspects of bilateral relations, according to the Kremlin. Sullivan said the leaders would direct their staff to continue negotiations on that.

There was at least one area where the two leaders found common ground. Sullivan said Biden and Putin had a “good discussion” on efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power and called it an area where the two countries could cooperate.

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to appoint envoys to continue talks on security in Europe in light of escalating tensions over Russia’s massing tens of thousands of troops near its border with Ukraine, but the Kremlin said Wednesday it was unclear when the talks would happen.

Biden and Putin spoke for over two hours during a video call on Tuesday. The conversation seemed to have yielded little progress on Ukraine and the Russian troop buildup apart from the two leaders agreeing to name envoys to keep the discussion going.

“It’s impossible to tell at this point when exactly this would happen, but the presidents meant that it should happen rather promptly,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in response to a question about the next steps for Washington and Moscow after the much-anticipated call between Putin and Biden.

Biden delivered a simple message to during his call with Putin: invade Ukraine again and face painful sanctions that will do resounding harm to your economy. The Russian president had his own blunt take, telling Biden that “the Russian troops are on their own territory, and they don’t threaten anyone,” according to Putin foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Wednesday that he would comment in detail on Thursday, after his own scheduled phone call with Biden. “Overall,...it was positive that the U.S. president spoke to the Russian president,” Zelenskyy said.

With no immediate breakthrough on the Ukraine question, the U.S. emphasized a need for diplomacy and de-escalation, while issuing stern threats to Russia about the high costs of a military incursion.

Biden “told President Putin directly that if Russia further invades Ukraine, the United States and our European allies would respond with strong economic measures,” U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said. He added that Biden said the U.S. would also “provide additional defensive material to the Ukrainians … and we would fortify our NATO allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to such an escalation.”

White House officials made clear that Biden is not interested in putting U.S. troops in harm’s way defending Ukraine. But Sullivan added that potential efforts to bolster regional allies could lead to additional deployments of U.S. troops to eastern European NATO allies.

A top U.S. envoy, Victoria Nuland, said a Russian invasion of Ukraine would also jeopardize a controversial pipeline between Russia and Germany known as Nord Stream 2. She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that if Russia invaded, “our expectation is that the pipeline will be suspended.”

Kremlin spokesman Peskov insisted Wednesday that Nord Stream 2 wasn't even mentioned during the call between Putin and Biden.

Ushakov, Putin's foreign policy adviser, dismissed the sanctions threat, telling reporters following the presidents' video call: “Sanctions aren’t something new. They have been in place for a long time and will not have any effect.”

He described the presidents’ video conference as “candid and businesslike,” adding that they also exchanged occasional jokes.

The two leaders spoke on the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, a defining moment that led to the U.S. entry in World War II. They commiserated about the cost of that conflict to their own families, Ushakov noted. Hours before the high-stakes call, Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited a war memorial in Washington to commemorate the anniversary.

In a brief snippet of the start of their meeting broadcasted by Russian state television, the two leaders offered friendly greetings to each other.

“I welcome you, Mr. President,” Putin said, with a Russian flag behind him and a video monitor showing Biden in front of him.

At the White House, Sullivan called it “a useful meeting,” allowing Biden to lay out in candid terms where America stands.

But as the U.S. and Russian presidents conferred, Ukraine grew only more anxious about the tens of thousands of Russian troops that have been deployed near its border.

Ukrainian officials said Russia had further escalated the crisis by sending tanks and snipers to war-torn eastern Ukraine to “provoke return fire” and lay a pretext for a potential invasion.

U.S. intelligence officials haven't been able to independently verify that accusation, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

But the official said that the White House has directly raised concerns with the Russians about “resorting to their old playbook” by trying to provoke the Ukrainians.

Putin entered the call looking for guarantees from Biden that an expansion of the NATO military alliance would never include Ukraine, a demand that was a non-starter for the U.S. and its NATO allies.

The Kremlin, in a post-call statement, said NATO had been “making dangerous attempts to expand its presence on the Ukrainian territory and has been expanding its military potential near Russian borders.”

On another matter, Putin proposed to lift all mutual restrictions on diplomatic missions and help normalize other aspects of bilateral relations, according to the Kremlin. Sullivan said the leaders would direct their staff to continue negotiations on that.

The leader-to-leader conversation — Biden speaking from the White House Situation Room, Putin from his residence in Sochi — was one of the most important of Biden’s presidency and came at a perilous time.

U.S. intelligence officials have determined that Russia has moved 70,000 troops near the Ukraine border and has made preparations for a possible invasion early next year.

Sullivan said the U.S. believes that Putin hasn't yet made a final decision to invade. Biden was vice president in 2014 when Russian troops strode into the Black Sea's Crimean Peninsula and annexed it from Ukraine.

Aides say the Crimea episode — one of the darker moments for then President Barack Obama on the international stage — looms large as Biden looks at the smoldering current crisis.

Biden’s Republican opponents in Washington are framing this moment as a key test of the president’s leadership on the global stage. Biden vowed as a candidate to reassert American leadership after President Donald Trump’s emphasis on an “America First” foreign policy.

“I will look you in the eye and tell you as President Biden looked President Putin in the eye and told him today that things we did not do in 2014, we are prepared to do now,” Sullivan told reporters after the leaders’ video call.

But there was at least one area where the two leaders found common ground during Tuesday’s call.

Sullivan said Biden and Putin had a “good discussion” on efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power and called it an area where the two countries could cooperate.

In Russia, the talks were seen as acceptable overall, said Pavel Sharikov, senior research fellow at the Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences.

“The impression of the (call) is satisfactory. It was held in a pragmatic manner. There was an intense dialogue, an exchange of opinions,” Sharikov told The Associated Press.

Biden on Tuesday spoke for the second straight day with leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy to coordinate messaging and potential sanctions. Biden is also expected to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday.

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