Biden and Putin to discuss military tensions in Ukraine

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Washington (AFP) – Presidents Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin said they were seeking diplomatic solutions to rising Russian-Western tensions over Ukraine in a phone call Thursday.

The call, requested by the Kremlin chief, was scheduled for 2030 GMT, and this is the second time Putin and Biden will speak to each other in just over three weeks, reflecting intense diplomacy underway to try to resolve a deadlock. dangerously growing on the edge of Eastern Europe. .

Before the call, both sides insisted they were ready to listen. But with Thursday’s talk paving the way for difficult, lower-level, face-to-face negotiations in Geneva in January, there was little indication of major concessions on the horizon.

Washington and its European allies accuse Russia of threatening Ukraine’s former Soviet territory with a new invasion. Some 100,000 Russian troops are massed near the country’s border, where Putin had already seized the Crimea region in 2014 and is accused of instigating a pro-Russian separatist war that broke out in the same year in the east.

Moscow describes the threatening presence of troops as a protection against Western encroachment, in particular NATO, although Ukraine has not been offered to join the military alliance.

Earlier this month, the Russians issued a broad set of demands, including guarantees that NATO will not expand further and a ban on new US military bases in former Soviet Union territories.

The United States rejects what it calls an offer by the Kremlin to dictate the future of independent countries and warns that if troops enter Ukraine, Russia will face meteoric economic sanctions backed by both Washington and the capitals of the EU.

Previous Western sanctions imposed after Moscow’s annexation of Crimea had little noticeable impact.

“Mood for conversation”

Biden, at his Wilmington, Delaware home for the New Years holiday, was to offer Putin a “diplomatic route” out of the crisis, a senior administration official told reporters.

Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces, military reserve of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, train to counter feared Russian invasion Sergei SUPINSKY AFP / File

“But we are also ready to react if Russia advances with a new invasion of Ukraine,” Biden will tell Putin, the official said, adding that Washington remains “gravely concerned” about the military build-up and wants to see Russian forces return “to their usual training zones.”

In a holiday message to Biden hours before the call, Putin said he was “convinced” that “we can move forward and establish an effective Russian-American dialogue based on mutual respect and consideration of national interests. of each one”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Putin was “in the mood for discussion.”

“We believe that it is only through talks that it is possible to solve all the immediate problems that we have in abundance between us,” Peskov said.

US support for Ukraine

The January talks will see Russian officials sit separately with negotiators representing the United States, NATO and the OSCE Regional Security Forum, which also includes the United States.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured him of the
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had assured him of “full US support for Ukraine in the fight against Russian aggression.” PRESIDENCE UKRAINE / AFP document

The Russian delegation will be headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and the US delegation by Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

Ukraine, which wants to join NATO but has been told it is far from ready to be accepted, is keen not to be left out of a larger deal.

US officials have gone to great lengths to insist that no decisions will be taken behind the Ukrainians’ backs and that even if US troops are not sent to defend the country from Russia, arms deliveries and d other military aid is expected to expand if Moscow attacks. .

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone on Wednesday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who said he was “assured of full US support for Ukraine to counter Russian aggression.”

Blinken also spoke with his British, French and German counterparts on “coordination to deter any further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

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