Biden and Putin’s serious conversation sets the tone for diplomacy

Presidents Joe Biden of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia exchanged threats about Ukraine on Thursday, but expressed hope that diplomatic talks in January will help to reduce rising tensions.

Biden said he needs to see Russia reduce its military buildup near Ukraine in a 50-minute chat, their second this month, while Putin suggested sanctions imposed by Washington and allies may lead to a rift in relations. Putin had requested the call.

“President Biden emphasised that substantial progress in these conversations can only be made in a de-escalation rather than escalation atmosphere,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said.

Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin aide, said the call provided a “excellent context” for future negotiations.

The leaders’ summit laid the groundwork for lower-level engagement between the countries, including a security discussion between the US and Russia on January 9-10, a Russia-NATO session on January 12, and a broader conference involving Moscow, Washington, and other European countries on January 13.

Despite the rhetoric of diplomacy, officials on both sides regarded the conversation as “serious.” Neither country revealed considerable progress toward a resolution or the broad contours of any agreement.

Leaders in Kyiv are concerned about the 60,000 to 90,000 Russian forces gathered to the north, east, and south of the city. From the west, the security alliance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has been making its own preparations.

Officials in Washington said they’ve seen little sign of a drawdown despite a rumour over the weekend that Russia would be drawing out approximately 10,000 troops. Although numerous types of observation aircraft are prevalent in the region, the US deployed its JSTARS military plane in Ukrainian airspace for the first time earlier this week.

Biden, for one, reaffirmed his threat of extraordinary consequences if Russia invaded Ukraine.

“Biden set out two paths,” according to a senior administration official, including diplomacy and deterrence, as well as “severe costs and consequences.”

“Both leaders noted that there were likely to be areas where real progress might be made as well as areas where agreements could be difficult, and that the future meetings will define the contours of each of those categories more precisely.”

According to aides, options include steps that essentially cut Russia off from the global financial system while also arming NATO.

Putin “quickly answered,” according to Ushakov, that any penalties imposed now or in the future “may lead to a complete collapse in ties between our countries.” “Our president also emphasised that it would be a mistake that our successors would look back on as a tremendous blunder,” he continued.

Following its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and its support for separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine, Moscow’s army deployments in the last two months have frightened the West.

Russia claims it has the right to move its troops around on its own soil and rejects any plans to attack Ukraine.

Concerned about the West’s re-arming of Ukraine, Moscow has demanded legally-binding assurances that NATO would not expand farther east, and that particular offensive weaponry will not be delivered to Ukraine or other neighbouring nations.

Biden appeared to concur with Putin’s assertion that Moscow need some security guarantees from the West, according to the Kremlin, and also stated that the US would not deploy offensive weaponry in Ukraine.

A request for comment on the Kremlin’s portrayal of Biden’s statements was not immediately returned by a White House official.

Putin has linked the present tensions to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis during the Cold War. Many of his requests, including as limits on NATO expansion, are considered non-starters by Washington.

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