Updated 1 hour ago
US President Joe Biden called the leaders of Ukraine and nine NATO allies in eastern Europe today, promising support if Russia attacks Ukraine, as well as imposing harsh economic sanctions on Moscow.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Biden for his «strong support» and wrote on Twitter that he had spent 90 minutes on the phone.
Zelensky said Biden showed him a video summit he had on Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin and they discussed possible formulas for resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists have established a self-declared state.
There was no immediate readout from the White House of the call, which reporters could see Biden make through the window of the Oval Office.
After Zelensky, the White House said, Biden spent 40 minutes talking to the leaders of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia — all of which, unlike Ukraine, joined NATO in the wake. from the Soviet collapse in 1991.
The calls come as the United States and European partners are pressing Russian President Vladimir Putin to step back from Ukraine, where nearly 100,000 Russian soldiers have gathered at the border.
Western and Ukrainian officials say they fear Russia — which already seized the entire Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014 and supports a large-scale separatist force in the east — is preparing for a broader invasion.
Putin says Russia has no intention of invasion but is adopting a defensive posture out of concern that Ukraine is getting too close to the Western military alliance of NATO.
But Biden warned Putin in a two-hour video call on Tuesday that Russia would face «unprecedented» economic sanctions if troops launched the attack.
Biden coordinates closely with major European powers, reaching out to the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Italy before and after the Putin video summit.
Today’s calls have shifted the focus to the countries directly on the front line in the power struggle between the West and Russia over territories that were entirely under Soviet control.
No troops for Ukraine
US options to help Ukraine are limited, because the country is not a member of NATO and the US has no desire for a direct military confrontation with Russia.
However, the United States is helping train Ukrainian forces and has allocated more than $2.5 billion to bolster an army that collapsed in the face of the Russian offensive in 2014.
Biden said the delivery of this type of «defensive capability» would be enhanced if the conflict escalated.
The US president says the possibility of sending US troops into the Ukrainian fight is «not on the table». But when it comes to the nine eastern NATO countries, Biden promises the opposite.
He said: «It is possible that we will be required to strengthen our presence in NATO countries to reassure those on the eastern front in particular.»
Biden and European leaders also speak of their willingness to impose harsh economic sanctions on Moscow for any further Russian attack.
Among them, the new German chancellor, Olaf Schulz, has warned of «consequences» for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a controversial Russian project to deliver natural gas to Germany.
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Putin is demanding legal guarantees that NATO will halt its eastward expansion except for Ukraine, which wants to join the alliance, but is nowhere near accepting.
And the Kremlin says any eventual stationing of US offensive weapons, such as missiles, in Ukraine would cross the red line.
It remains unclear how far, if any, Washington is willing to go in meeting the Russians’ demands.
However, Biden said negotiators were looking at «whether or not we can work on any accommodations in terms of lowering the temperature along the Eastern Front.»
Today, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Moscow said that Russian diplomats have begun work on following up on the summit. No details were provided.
Meanwhile, Ukraine this week held new ceasefire talks, focused on ending the fighting, releasing detainees, and reopening travel in the disputed eastern regions.
Zelensky called on the breakaway states to open checkpoints to allow people living in separatist-held areas to cross into Kiev-controlled territory.
«Especially now, before the Christmas and New Year holidays, this is very important from a human point of view,» Zelensky said yesterday.
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