AAMER MADHANI and Dasha Litvinova
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin met face to face for more than two hours on Tuesday during a secure video link when the US President warned Moscow that an invasion of Ukraine would bring sanctions and wreak havoc on Russia. saving.
As tens of thousands of Russian troops are concentrated on the border with Ukraine, the long-awaited call between the two leaders comes amid growing concerns from the United States and Western allies about Russia’s threat to its neighbor.
Putin, for his part, came to the meeting to get assurances from Biden that the NATO military alliance would never expand at the expense of Ukraine, which has long sought membership. The Americans and their NATO allies said the request was unsatisfactory.
There appeared to be no immediate breakthroughs to ease tensions on the Ukrainian issue, as the US stressed the need for diplomacy and de-escalation and sharply threatened Russia about the consequences of the invasion.
Biden “told President Putin bluntly that if Russia continues to invade Ukraine, the United States and our European allies will respond with decisive economic measures,” US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said after the call.
He added that Biden said the US would also “provide the Ukrainians with additional defensive capabilities … and we will strengthen our NATO allies on the eastern flank with additional capabilities in response to such an escalation.”
This could include additional deployments of US troops to Eastern European NATO allies, the adviser said.
Senior US envoy Victoria Nuland said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would also jeopardize the controversial pipeline between Russia and Germany. She told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday that in the event of a Russian invasion, “we expect the pipeline to be suspended.”
Putin’s foreign affairs adviser Yuri Ushakov dismissed the threat of sanctions during a conference call with reporters.
“While the US president was talking about possible sanctions, our president was emphasizing what Russia needs,” Ushakov said. “The sanctions are not something new, they have been in effect for a long time and will have no effect.”
He described the presidents’ videoconference as “frank and businesslike,” adding that they also exchanged jokes from time to time.
In a short segment that was broadcast on Russian state television, the leaders of the two countries greeted each other in a friendly manner.
“I greet you, Mr. President,” Putin said, speaking with the Russian flag behind him and a video monitor showing Biden in front of him. “Nice to see you again!” Biden answered with a grin. He noted Putin’s absence from the recent G-20 summit in Rome – Putin took over the park via video link over concerns over COVID-19 – and said, “I hope next time we meet to do this in person.”
At the White House, Sullivan said, “It was a useful meeting,” which allowed Biden to be frank about the US position.
According to the presidents of the United States and Russia, Ukraine is only more worried about the tens of thousands of Russian troops stationed at its border. Ukrainian officials blamed Russia for further escalating the smoldering crisis, sending tanks and snipers into war-torn eastern Ukraine to “provoke return fire” and create a pretext for a potential invasion.
According to an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue, US intelligence officials were unable to independently confirm the accusation. But the official said the White House had directly expressed concern to the Russians about “resorting to their old scenario” in an attempt to provoke the Ukrainians.
The Kremlin said after a telephone conversation: “Putin stressed that it is wrong to place responsibility on Russia, since it is NATO that is making dangerous attempts to expand its presence in Ukraine and is building up its military potential. at the borders of Russia “.
The Kremlin said the Russian leader also proposed lifting all mutual restrictions on diplomatic missions and helping to normalize other aspects of bilateral relations. Sullivan said the leaders would order their headquarters to continue negotiations on the matter.
The conversation between the leaders – Biden speaking from the situation room of the White House, Putin – from his residence in Sochi – was one of the most important during Biden’s presidency and took place at a difficult time. US intelligence officials have determined that Russia has deployed 70,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and prepared for a possible invasion early next year.
Sullivan said the US believes Putin has yet to make the final decision to invade.
Biden was vice president in 2014 when Russian troops entered the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and annexed Ukrainian territory. Aides say the Crimea episode – one of the darkest moments for President Barack Obama on the international stage – looms as Biden looks at the current smoldering crisis.
Politically, in Washington, Republicans see this moment as a key test of Biden’s leadership on the world stage. Biden vowed as a candidate to restore America’s leadership after President Donald Trump’s emphasis on an America First foreign policy. But Republicans say he has failed to slow Iran’s advance towards a nuclear power, and has done too little to counter authoritarian leaders, including Xi Jinping and Putin.
“Authoritarian companions in Beijing and Tehran will be watching the free world react,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said from a Senate courtroom ahead of Biden’s meeting with Putin.
Sullivan said Biden and Putin “had a good discussion on the Iranian issue,” and called it an area in which the two countries could cooperate.
“The more Iran shows frivolity at the negotiating table,” the stronger the sense of unity between the United States and the parties to the 2015 nuclear deal, including Russia and the European Union, will be, he said.
Trump, who showed extraordinary respect for Putin during his presidency, said in a statement that “Vladimir Putin is looking at our pitiful surrender in Afghanistan, leaving behind dead soldiers, American citizens and $ 85 billion worth of military equipment. Then he looks at Biden. He’s not worried! “
Ahead of Putin’s call, Biden spoke Monday with the leaders of the UK, France, Germany and Italy to agree on messaging and possible sanctions. He should also talk to them again after his call to inform them of the result. Biden is also expected to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday.
Analysts agree that Putin apparently sees the current situation as a time to correct the power dynamics in US-Russian relations.
Apart from Ukraine, there are many other sensitive issues on the table, including cyberattacks and human rights. Before the call, Kremlin spokesman Peskov said that US-Russian relations in general were in a “rather deplorable state.”
“Russia never planned to attack anyone,” Peskov said. He described the appeal of Biden and Putin as “a working conversation in a very difficult period”, when “the escalation of tensions in Europe is off scale, extreme.”
Litvinova reported from Moscow. Associated Press contributors Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Robert Burns, Zeke Miller and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.