President Joe Biden has warned Russia’s Vladimir Putin that if the country takes more military action against Ukraine, the US would retaliate with fresh sanctions, while Putin has retorted that such a move by the US may lead to a full break in relations between the two countries.
The two presidents spoke candidly for about an hour on Thursday, amid mounting concern about Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine, a problem that has worsened as the Kremlin has increased its demands for border security assurances and test-fired hypersonic missiles to back up its claims.
Additional US penalties “would be a tremendous blunder with terrible implications,” said Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign affairs advisor, who addressed media in Moscow following the Biden-Putin phone call. Putin also informed Biden that if offensive weapons were put near American borders, Russia would respond in the same way as the US would.
Officials from the White House issued a significantly more subdued post-call statement, implying that the leaders recognized that there are areas where the two sides can make real progress but that there are other gaps that may be hard to address.
Biden “urged Russia to de-escalate tensions with Ukraine,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki, and “made clear that the United States and its friends and partners will respond firmly if Russia continues to occupy Ukraine.”
Putin sought the contact, which is the second between the two presidents this month, ahead of top US and Russian officials meeting in Geneva on January 9 and 10. Following the Geneva discussions, the Russia-NATO Council will convene on January 12 and negotiations at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna on January 13.
The talk lasted 50 minutes, according to White House officials, and ended after midnight in Moscow.
According to a senior administration source, Biden informed Putin that the two nations now have “two roads” to choose from: negotiations or American deterrence through sanctions. According to the individual who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, Biden said the path followed will “depend on Russia’s behavior in the months ahead.”
Russia has made it plain that it wants a formal guarantee from the Biden administration that Ukraine will never be permitted to join NATO and that the alliance’s military weapons would not be stationed in former Soviet nations.
Even as the Russians have pushed an estimated 100,000 soldiers toward Ukraine and Kremlin officials have increased the volume on their demands for more guarantees from the US and NATO, Biden assured Putin that a diplomatic option remained open.
According to White House sources, Biden made it plain that if Putin decides to intervene militarily in Ukraine, the US will be prepared to impose severe economic penalties.
Putin retaliated vehemently.
He “remarked that it would be a severe error that our forefathers would consider as a mistake.” “We’ve made a lot of mistakes in the last 30 years, and we’d best avoid making more in this circumstance,” Ushakov added.
The demands of Russia will be handled at the Geneva negotiations, but it’s unclear what, if anything, Biden is ready to offer Putin in exchange for defusing the crisis.
Prepare drafts of security papers Moscow has asked NATO to refuse Ukraine and other former Soviet republics membership and to reduce military deployments in Central and Eastern Europe.
The US and its allies have refused to give Putin the guarantees on Ukraine that he seeks, citing NATO’s concept that membership is available to any nation that meets certain criteria. However, they agreed to meet with Russia to discuss its concerns.
The Russian security plan has raised the issue of whether Putin is making unreasonable demands in the hopes of a Western rejection, which would give him a justification to invade.
If Moscow is serious about discussions, Steven Pifer, who served as US ambassador to Ukraine during the Clinton administration, believes the Biden administration might engage on certain sections of Russia’s proposed statement.
Meanwhile, important NATO members have made it plain that they have no plans to extend the organization anytime soon. The United States and its allies may also be amenable to wording in the Russian draft statement that calls for the creation of new consultation institutions, such as the NATO-Russia Council and a NATO-Russia hotline.
“While the draft treaty’s proposed ban on any NATO military activity in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, or Central Asia is an overreach,” Pifer, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote in an analysis for the Washington think tank, “some measures to limit military exercises and activities on a reciprocal basis might be possible.”
Biden and Putin are not anticipated to attend the January meetings after meeting in Geneva in June to address a variety of problems in the US-Russia relationship.
Russia tested Zircon hypersonic missiles this week, according to Russian authorities, in order to make Russia’s pitch for security assurances “more believable.” The test was the first time Zircon missiles were fired in a salvo, signifying the end of the testing phase before the new missile is deployed to Russian cruisers, frigates, and submarines next year.
Russian preparation for a prospective military attack, which could start as early as early 2022, was discovered by US intelligence earlier this month, but Putin has yet to decide whether to go forward with it.
Ukraine’s Security and Defense Council Secretary, Oleksiy Danilov, stated on Thursday that his government feels there is no immediate threat of a large Russian invasion.
“Our specialists indicate the Russian Federation simply cannot physically mount a large-scale invasion of our area,” Danilov said. “Preparations must take place over a period of time.”
According to Chuck Pritchard, a spokesperson for US European Command, the US military has undertaken surveillance flights in Ukrainian airspace this week, including one on Thursday by an Air Force E-8C JSTARS aircraft. That plane has the capability of gathering intelligence on ground forces.
Russia has rejected any intention of launching an invasion, while Ukraine has accused Russia of devising plans to use force to recover territory controlled by Moscow-backed rebels. The allegation has been denied by Ukraine.
At the same time, Putin has warned that if the West continues to be “aggressive” “on the doorstep of our home,” Moscow would have to take “appropriate military-technical measures.”
Last month, Putin expressed fear that NATO would exploit Ukrainian territory to place missiles capable of reaching Moscow in five minutes, and claimed that Zircon would provide Russia with a comparable capacity.
As Biden prepared for his meeting with Putin, the administration also attempted to emphasize its commitment to Ukraine and to emphasize that in developing policy that impacts European partners, Washington adheres to the “concept of nothing about you without you.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy talked with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday.
Putin’s previous military interventions loom heavily.
Russian forces marched into Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula, in 2014 and took control of the region from Ukraine. The seizure of Crimea by Russia was one of President Barack Obama’s worst international moments.
After Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili sent his soldiers into the separatist province of South Ossetia, Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, damaging the US-Russia relationship near the conclusion of President George W. Bush’s presidency.
Biden spoke with Putin from his house outside Wilmington, where he is spending the week in his home state of Delaware. The White House released a photo of President Trump chatting with Russian President Vladimir Putin from a desk adorned with family photos.