Diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict in Ukraine continue peacefully. After his conversation with Vladimir Putin, US President Joe Biden called Kiev today.
The White House says Biden wants to discuss the buildup of Russian forces along the Ukrainian border with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. There will be more than 100,000 soldiers ready. Ukraine is also on high alert. In addition, Biden wants to update Kiev on upcoming talks between Moscow and Washington, which would help defuse the conflict in Ukraine. Zelensky announced on Twitter that the goal was to agree on common positions “for peace in Ukraine and security in Europe.”
Biden was on the phone with Putin for about an hour on Thursday. Diplomats from Russia and the United States are preparing for official talks in Geneva on January 9-10. NATO is also scheduled to meet with a Russian delegation on January 12. The next day there is a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
With less than two weeks to go before top US and Russian officials meet in Geneva, there is still much muscle talk. President Biden told reporters Friday that when they spoke to his Russian counterpart on the phone the day before, he assured his Russian counterpart that upcoming talks could only be successful if “Putin de-escalates, not escalates” in the coming days. Biden said Russia would face severe sanctions if it invaded Ukraine.
I made it clear to President Putin that if he takes any further steps in Ukraine, we will face severe sanctions. “We will increase our presence in Europe with NATO allies,” Biden said.
Despite these strong words, the Russian leader was not unhappy with the conversation, according to Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov. He reiterated that imposing sanctions on his country would be a “fatal mistake.” There could be ramifications for talks on arms control, cyber security, climate change and other issues the United States wants to discuss with Russia.
Russian commentators stress Putin’s insistence on written security guarantees. Moscow wants, in black and white, to exclude Ukraine and other former Soviet republics from any future NATO expansion. Russia also demands the coalition remove offensive weapons from neighboring countries. The Biden administration and NATO allies have made it clear more than once that Russia’s demands are out of the question in the current circumstances.
The United States has accused Russia for weeks of massive deployment of its forces in areas on the border with Ukraine. He feared that Russian forces could invade the former Soviet Republic. Moscow denies such plans. In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula on the Black Sea into Crimea. It also supports pro-Kremlin separatists in eastern Ukraine.
“The next two weeks are going to be tough,” said Daniel Fried, former US ambassador to Poland and chief Eastern European adviser to Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. “But the most difficult test is yet to come, as Putin will continue to threaten and his myopia will see how determined we are.”
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