Biden to urge Putin to return to diplomacy over Ukraine: Official

US president to speak with Russian counterpart on Tuesday amid rising tensions over Russian troop build-up near Ukraine.

Published On 6 Dec 2021

US President Joe Biden will warn his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin of “direct costs” should Russia invade Ukraine, a senior Biden administration official has said, on the eve of a scheduled call between the two leaders.

Biden intends to “send a clear message to Russia that there will be genuine and meaningful and direct costs should they choose to go forward with a military escalation” with Ukraine, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity on Monday.

The president is consulting directly with the United States’ European allies in preparation for the call with Putin on Tuesday, the official added.

Tensions between Washington and Moscow have escalated in recent weeks over a major Russian troop build-up on its border with Ukraine, raising fears of a potential invasion and spurring warnings of new Western economic sanctions on Russia.

Biden and Putin will speak in a secure video conference on Tuesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov announced over the weekend.

The Kremlin said last week that Putin during the discussion with Biden would seek binding guarantees that NATO would not expand to Ukraine.

The Russian president warned late last month that any expansion of NATO military infrastructure in Ukraine was a red line for his government, while the country has repeatedly warned the West against arming Ukraine.

In 2014, Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists seized a swath of territory in eastern Ukraine, igniting a conflict that continues to simmer to this day.

The Biden administration official said on Monday that Biden would make clear to Putin that “diplomacy is the responsible way” forward to avoid a crisis. “We are encouraging Russia to return to diplomatic avenues including the fulfilment of the Minsk agreements,” the official said.

The Minsk agreements, reached between Russia and Ukraine with members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe beginning in 2014, call for peaceful resolution of the border conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

The Biden administration official added that the US is not seeking a direct military confrontation with Russia, but said Washington would support its allies with additional military capabilities should Moscow invade.

US intelligence officials have determined that Russia has massed about 70,000 soldiers near its border with Ukraine and has begun planning for a possible invasion as soon as early next year.

“Our objective here is conveying diplomatically that this is the moment for Russia to pullback their military buildup at the border, that diplomacy is the right path forward,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday afternoon about the upcoming Biden-Putin call.

She added that the US would coordinate with its European partners on “a range of economic sanctions and steps that can be taken should President Putin decide to move forward”.

A spokesman for outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Monday that there has been a “lack of transparency” from the Kremlin and “increasingly aggressive Russian rhetoric” that “we cannot accept”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week also warned Moscow of the “severe costs and consequences” it would pay if it invaded Ukraine, urging Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to seek a diplomatic exit from the crisis.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gave awards to Ukrainian service members at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels in the Donetsk region on December 6 [Ukrainian Presidential Press Service/Handout via Reuters]

Blinken and Lavrov met in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 2 to discuss the rising tensions.

Lavrov said after the meeting that the US threatened new sanctions, but suggested the effort would not be effective. “If the new ‘sanctions from hell’ come, we will respond,” he said. “We can’t fail to respond.”

For his part, Biden said last week that he was crafting a “comprehensive” plan to deter Russian aggression against Ukraine, while also pushing back on Putin’s demands.

“We’ve been aware of Russia’s actions for a long time and my expectation is we’re going to have a long discussion,” Biden told reporters on Friday. Asked if he accepted Putin’s “red line” in Ukraine, Biden responded: “I won’t accept anybody’s red line”.

Ukraine is not a member of the NATO alliance, but officials have asked the US and its NATO allies to help prevent Russian military action. The US has been providing military assistance to Ukraine, including the deployment of advanced Javelin anti-tank weapons, in recent years.

Meanwhile, Blinken is expected to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in advance of the call between Biden and Putin, the US administration official said on Monday.

Biden would also follow up with Zelenskyy in the coming days, the official added.



Al Jazeera and news agencies


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