By Andrea Shalal, Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn
WASHINGTON / MOSCOW (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Tuesday warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that the West would impose “strong economic and other measures” on Russia if it invaded Ukraine, while Putin demanded guarantees that the NATO would not extend further east.
The two leaders held two hours of virtual talks on Ukraine and other disputes during a video call on US-Russian relations, which fell to their lowest since the end of the Cold War more than of three decades, while Russia en masse tens of thousands. troops at the Ukrainian border.
Putin responded to the warning with a demand for reliable and legally binding guarantees against NATO’s eastward expansion and complained about NATO’s attempts to “develop” Ukrainian territory, “said the Kremlin.
The White House said Biden made no guarantees to limit NATO’s expansion towards Ukraine.
“I will tell you clearly and directly that he has not made any such commitments or concessions. He maintains the proposition that countries should be able to freely choose with whom to associate,” the adviser told reporters at the Biden National Security, Jake Sullivan.
No breakthroughs were reported, but the two sides agreed to continue communications, a development that could reduce global tensions.
The Kremlin has denied plans to attack Ukraine and has said a build-up of troops on its southern border is defensive, but neighboring countries are sounding the alarm bells.
Biden warned Putin he could face severe economic sanctions, disruption of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Europe, and that the United States and its European allies would provide additional defensive capabilities to Ukraine.
The president “has made it clear that the United States and our allies will respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation,” the White House said in a statement.
“What we did not do in 2014 we are ready to do now,” Sullivan told reporters after the call, referring to the reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea to Ukraine .
In the event of an attack, the United States would seek to respond positively if the Baltic allies request additional American “capabilities” or “deployments”, he said.
The United States could also target Russia’s biggest banks and Moscow’s ability to convert rubles into dollars and other currencies, an official said.
In 2014, Washington focused primarily on defensive and non-lethal aid in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, lest it worsen the crisis.
Biden was “straightforward and forthright” with Putin, Sullivan said. “There has been a lot of give-and-take, there has been no fuss, but the president has made it clear where the United States stands on all of these issues,” Sullivan said.
The Kremlin said Putin told Biden it was wrong to put all the blame on Russia for the current tensions.
Moscow has expressed growing irritation at Western military aid to Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that has leaned towards the West since a popular revolt toppled a pro-Russian president in 2014, and what Russia calls the creeping expansion of NATO.
RUSSIA WANTS GUARANTEES
Putin complained about NATO’s attempts to “develop” Ukrainian territory, the Kremlin said.
“Therefore, Russia is seriously interested in securing reliable and legally secured guarantees that exclude NATO’s eastward expansion and the deployment of offensive weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia,” said the Kremlin.
Putin also called for ensuring that offensive strike systems are not deployed in countries close to Russia, according to the Kremlin.
Russian television footage showed Biden and Putin friendly greetings at the start of the virtual summit.
Both sides say they hope the two leaders can hold an in-person summit to discuss relations between the two countries, which have long-standing disputes over Syria, US economic sanctions and alleged Russian cyber attacks on companies. American.
A Ukrainian official said after the talks that Kiev was grateful to Biden for his “unwavering support”.
A US congressional defense bill released after the talks provided for $ 300 million for the Ukrainian military.
For the Kremlin, NATO’s growing membership in neighboring Ukraine – and what it sees as the nightmarish possibility of alliance missiles in Ukraine targeting Russia – is a “red line” it does not not allow to cross.
Moscow has questioned Ukrainian intentions and said it wants guarantees that Kiev will not use force to attempt to reclaim territory lost in 2014 to Russian-backed separatists, a scenario Ukraine has ruled out.
COMMITTED WESTERN ALLIES
British, American, French, German and Italian leaders spoke on Monday and “agreed to stay in close contact on a coordinated and comprehensive approach in response to Russia’s military build-up on Ukraine’s borders,” the House said. White.
The Russian ruble weakened slightly on Tuesday, with some market analysts predicting the talks would ease tensions and others saying the threat of US sanctions has eroded hopes of finding common ground.
U.S. officials have told members of Congress they have an agreement with Germany to shut down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine, a senior congressional official said.
“If President Putin acts on Ukraine, we expect the pipeline to be suspended,” Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The United States assessed the possibility of restricting the ability of investors to buy Russian debt in the secondary market, a move which, although taken only by Washington, was seen to have a serious impact on the government. Russian, according to a person with direct knowledge of the subject.
Washington could also target the Russian Direct Investment Fund.
CNN reported that the sanctions could include disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT international payment system used by banks around the world, an extreme measure that would likely require coordination with allies.
German Gref, managing director of Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank, on Tuesday called the idea “nonsense” and “impossible to execute”.
The United States urged Ukraine and Russia to return to a largely unimplemented set of agreements signed in 2014 and 2015 that aimed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Steve Holland and Andrew Osborn; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali, Trevor Hunnicutt, Matt Spetalnick and Jeff Mason in Washington, Gleb Stolyarov, Dmitry Antonov, Alexander Marrow, Tom Balmforth and Katya Golubkova in Moscow and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; edited by Heather Timmons, Mark Heinrich, Peter Cooney and Himani Sarkar)