Biden, Putin Warn of Danger to Relations if Crisis Over Ukraine Escalates

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Moscow builds troops near Ukraine and issues demands to NATO and the US

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Mr Putin said such an action would lead to a dangerous rift in relations between the two countries, a foreign policy aide to Putin said.

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“Our president responded immediately, adding that if the West decides to impose such unprecedented sanctions, it could lead to a complete breakdown of relations between our countries,” Yuri Ushakov told reporters.

Thursday’s call came at what a senior Biden administration official described as a “moment of crisis” over Ukraine. Mr Putin requested the call, which gives him a chance to speak directly with Mr Biden before meeting his negotiators for a series of talks next month. He spoke about Ukraine for the second time this month, the last time being a two-hour call on December 7.

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Since the fall, Mr Putin has ordered a mass dispatch of troops to Ukraine, which US and European officials say could be a prelude to an invasion. In doing so, Mr. Putin is trying to force the US and its allies to address Moscow’s objections to military alliance ties with Ukraine, Georgia and other former Soviet states in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, current and former. officials said.

Both sides described the tone of Thursday’s discussion as serious and substantive. However, the senior US official said Washington was continuing to monitor the deployment of Russian forces near Crimea and Ukraine.

During the call, the US official said, Mr. Biden outlined two paths before Mr. Putin: one of de-escalation and diplomacy, and another in which Russia pursues military action against its Ukrainian neighbor and a serious response from the West. encounters.

That, Mr Biden and top officials have said, would include tighter economic sanctions, increased military aid to Ukraine and a reinforced US military presence along the eastern side of NATO near Russia. The Kremlin’s sharp reaction to sanctions warnings was seen by some US officials as a sign that Moscow was taking that threat seriously.

Mr Biden has rejected Russian demands that the US halt NATO’s eastward expansion and rejected possible membership for Ukraine, a position a US official reiterated on Thursday.

“Our position is very clear. “These are decisions to be taken by sovereign countries, ostensibly in consultation with the Coalition and not to be determined by others.”

Mr Putin sparked the current crisis, current and former US officials said, with his troop deployment and demands for security guarantees that would prevent NATO’s eastern expansion and parts of the former Soviet Union denying membership in the coalition.

“It’s almost as if Putin and the Kremlin were saying: ‘Wait a minute, we’re a nuclear superpower, pay attention to us,'” said Angela Stant, a Brookings Institution fellow and former US national intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia. ” “The major Western players have become distracted, and Putin took the initiative and, in essence, created a crisis where there was no crisis to secure concessions from the West.”

Russia’s foreign ministry this month posted two proposed agreements that would redefine European security on its website—a draft treaty with the US and one with NATO countries—after submitting them to a senior State Department official. The treaty was issued in English and Russian versions and was completed with signature blocks for both parties.

“You must give us a guarantee,” Mr Putin said at his annual press conference on 23 December. “Now!”

In the call on Thursday, Mr. Putin argued that the US would do the same thing if Russia was deploying weapons near the US border, Mr. Ushakov said.

Mr Biden said the US had no intention of deploying offensive missiles in Ukraine that could strike Russia, Mr Ushakov said.

A White House official said Mr Biden made it clear that the US was providing only defensive security assistance to Ukraine and was not deploying offensive weapons to attack Russia. “This was not a new commitment. It was a rehashing of our current policy,” said the White House official.

The military aid the US has provided Ukraine so far includes anti-tank weapons, counter-battery radar, patrol boats and battlefield systems.

Mr Biden had tried to forge a different relationship with his Russian counterpart. Ahead of his first summit meeting with Mr Putin in June, officials in the Biden administration made it clear they were seeking a predictable and stable relationship with Moscow.

Although the two leaders did not resolve key issues at their summit, they expressed interest in maintaining a working relationship and reiterated the formula codified by former President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that “a nuclear war cannot be won”. and should never be fought.” That topic, Mr. Ushakov said, also came up in Thursday’s call.

Mr Putin, however, is not satisfied with the status quo in Europe, which he has said presents a long-term threat to Russian security, and has rejected long-standing demands for a sphere of influence along his country’s periphery. Saw an opportunity to press. ,

Although NATO stated in 2008 that Ukraine and Georgia would one day be members, the coalition did not proceed to fulfill that pledge. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and the war between Kiev and Russian-backed separatists has been running low.

Moscow has become concerned that Ukraine is moving west and possibly towards NATO membership. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky was cracking down on pro-Russian politicians and media inside his country, giving the Kremlin less leverage over Ukraine’s internal politics.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s military is receiving Western weapons systems and training from members of NATO, although it is far less capable than Russia’s forces.

Russian military RAND Corp expert Dara Masicott said Russia’s military deployment has left the Kremlin with a range of diplomatic and military options as it seeks concessions from Washington and NATO.

“They’re creating this artificial sense of urgency. Many of their demands are years old. They’re using military force to underscore the point. They’re trying to set the pace for talks and make concessions, She said. “It is almost as if Ukraine is hostage.”

Write Michael R. Gordon at [email protected] and Thomas Grove at [email protected]

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